By Jamey Dunn with Caitlin Rydinksy contributing
House Speaker Michael Madigan said that an extension of the current income tax rates is “significantly” short of the votes needed to pass in his chamber despite Gov. Pat Quinn addressing a House Democratic caucus meeting Monday evening.
Quinn met with House Democrats behind closed doors for more than two hours Monday. The governor is advocating for an extension of the current income tax rates of rates of 5 percent for individuals and 7 percent for corporations. As the law stands, the rates would step down to 3.75 for individuals and 5.25 for corporations half way through Fiscal Year 2015. Supporters of extending the current rates argue that allowing the rates to sunset would cause devastating cuts to education and other core areas of state government.
As part of his tax plan, Quinn also wants to send an annual $500 property tax rebate to homeowners in the state. “I think we need to make sure that we properly invest in our schools. Our state over relies right now on property tax to fund education. I think we have to do better. We have to use a tax based on ability to pay, the income tax, to properly fund our schools. I spoke about that quite a bit in the caucus,” Quinn said after he addressed the Democrats.
Upon exiting the meeting, many Democrats described it as “cordial” and said that their colleagues had plenty of questions for Quinn. Rep. Elaine Nekritz, a Northbrook Democrat, described the caucus meeting as “tense.” Nekritz said she would support an extension of the current rates if it was coupled with some larger budget reforms, such as the creation of a rainy day fund. “We have a variety of opinions and thoughts on the direction that we ought to be taking, and there was a lot of that aired,” Nekritz said of the caucus. “This is a very very difficult decision for members, so I think that it just creates tension.”
Madigan said that he is working to pass the tax rates extension solely with Democratic support. No Republicans voted in favor of the temporary increase when it was approved in 2011. House Minority Leader Jim Durkin said that he does not plan on putting any votes on an extension of the rates. “Our caucus is firmly against it.” Durkin said that Republicans would make a tax vote a campaign issue for Democrats running for reelection. “It’s kind of a defining issue between the parties,” he said. “Remember, this [tax increase] was temporary three and a half years ago.”
Madigan said that Quinn worked hard to present his case, but he doesn’t know yet if any minds were changed.
“I thought he did an excellent job of presenting his position, arguing for his position, taking questions. He took every question. He answered every question. He got very animated on a lot of his answers because, at times, he wasn’t hearing what he wanted to hear,” Madigan said. “I think it’s significant that there was opposition expressed from all sectors of our caucus. I’m going to continue to work to find 60 Democrats to vote for the governor’s bill. We are significantly away from 60 today.”
When asked how he would get the votes, Madigan said, “It’s going to take a great deal of persuasion.” He refused to answer questions about possible alternative revenue sources or what would happen with the budget if he cannot get the votes for the extension.
Quinn’s tone was more optimistic. “You’re always building a majority on any issue; it’s a building of a majority to get to 60. I think we’re doing our very best to get that majority. I think my philosophy in life is hope for the best and work for it. So, we’re working real hard on getting those 60 votes in the House of Representatives. Obviously, we have to keep on working until we get there.”
Lawmakers who are likely targets of lobbying efforts from Quinn and Madigan were coy when approached by reporters after hearing Quinn’s arguments. Rep. Sam Yingling, a Democrat from Round Lake Beach, would not comment when asked about his reactions as he excited the meeting. Yingling is signed on as a cosponsor of a bill that would roll back the tax rates to the levels they were at before the increase. Another suburban Democrat, Rep. Fred Crespo, said his constituents are “very concerned” about the possibility of the tax rates being extended. Crespo, who is from Hoffman Estates, has previously opposed extending the rates. “There’s a lot of conversations going on, and we’ll just have to wait and see,” said Crespo. “You know, every day’s a different day.”