Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Income tax talk heats up

By Jamey Dunn

As Gov. Pat Quinn gears up to lobby the legislature for an income tax increase during the upcoming veto session, former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar said Quinn’s election victory could make the job easier.

Quinn called on Republican and Democratic leadership in the General Assembly today to support his 1 percentage point increase in the income tax, which he says will be used to support education. He said he plans to start calling legislators about the plan this week and will be in Springfield when legislative session starts up again next week.

“I would say to all the legislative leaders of both parties and both houses that it’s high time that we work on that issue. The message of this election is: We have to fund our schools, and we have to do it in a proper way. And we’re going to keep that message going as long as necessary to make sure legislators keep their eye on the ball. … I am confident that reality will set in and the right thing to do will set in,” Quinn said at a Chicago news conference.

When the Illinois Senate was back in legislative session last week, Senate President John Cullerton reiterated his stance that it is up to the Illinois House to take up the tax issue because Democrats in his chamber passed a tax increase last year. He added that if the House passes a different tax increase, his members would consider it. During the same conversation with reporters, Cullerton said the Senate plans to consider a gambling expansion during veto session as a way to increase state revenues.

While Quinn did not say he would veto a gaming expansion bill, he said he was not excited about the idea. “You can’t gamble your way into prosperity in Illinois. … There’s no quick shortcut to prosperity. … I’m not enthused at all about gambling. Never have been.”

Quinn has made similar statements about gambling in the past, but he did approve legalizing video poker machines in some bars and restaurants across the state as a way to fund a capital construction bill.

Quinn has said that his election is a mandate from voters for a tax increase. While Edgar did not go so far as to agree with Quinn’s mandate claim, he said Quinn’s election should make approving a tax increase more “palatable” for legislators.

“Being for the income tax increase is not suicide in Illinois politics. Contrary to what all the pundits and everybody had thought for years. … You can be for an income tax, and you can be reelected,” Edgar said.

However, Edgar said an income tax increase should not be the only focus of debate because cuts are also necessary to address the state’s growing deficit.

“In many ways, those cuts are going to be probably more difficult to get agreement on than a tax increase. … I just hope that the debate doesn’t just continue to center on a tax increase, that we don’t ignore what I think is probably the more important of the two — and I think is going to be the more difficult — and that’s, ‘Where can we cut spending?’”

Edgar said if Quinn can come up with a comprehensive long-term plan that involves cuts along with an income tax increase, he would be willing to support it.

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