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updated: 5/28/2014 6:42 PM

Quinn got neither of two stark budget options

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  • In his March budget address, Gov. Pat Quinn called for an extension of the Illinois income tax increase or else the state face deep budget cuts. The spending plan being moved by lawmakers includes neither.

      In his March budget address, Gov. Pat Quinn called for an extension of the Illinois income tax increase or else the state face deep budget cuts. The spending plan being moved by lawmakers includes neither.
    Associated Press File Photo

  • Bruce Rauner

      Bruce Rauner

 
 

Gov. Pat Quinn stood before lawmakers and cameras two months ago to present a budget plan portraying the state's financial future as a stark and clear decision between two very different choices.

Lawmakers could extend Illinois' 2011 income tax hike beyond its Jan. 1 expiration, as Quinn recommended, and have money to buoy schools, send cash to property taxpayers and generally avoid budget doom.

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The other option, he said, was "savage" cuts to programs across the state that could jeopardize services for children, the elderly and the state's most vulnerable people.

"Today, I propose that we take the path that is honest and responsible, the path that protects everyday families and invests in their future," he said then.

Now, though, faced with a tough election several months away, lawmakers are so far moving forward with a spending plan where neither of those two choices would come to pass.

How did Plan A and Plan B give way to Plan C?

Both of Quinn's options were fraught with political peril for Democrats, who control the Illinois House and Senate and can approve budgets without Republican help.

House Democrats made clear they wouldn't vote for a tax extension, and they soundly rejected a budget with deep cuts.

At the same time, GOP candidate for governor Bruce Rauner hasn't weighed in with specific budget plans of his own, often saying in public remarks that they would be coming "soon." House Democrats voted for a spending plan this week that combines the assumption that more money will come in next year with borrowing money for the state's general checkbook from other accounts in state government that collect fees for different purposes.

It's a move that puts off the decisions outlined by Quinn until after November's election, spares most state agencies harsh spending cuts and uses a plan that would be hard to do over again next year.

And it virtually assures that spending and taxing issues will return to the fore after the Nov. 4 election.

"It's a temporary solution," state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, said. "But we're going to need a long-term solution."

Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson told The Associated Press the plan is "incomplete."

"The budget doesn't avoid the tough decisions. It just postpones them," Anderson said.

Putting off decisions until after the general election also means the one who wins the governor's seat will be tasked with managing the result.

For Quinn, he doesn't get the tax extension he called for, and the budget could avoid the cuts that could have helped him make the case the higher income tax is needed.

For Rauner, he might start a new job in a far from ideal financial situation, making the gig tough right from the start.

In the meantime, the two candidates will almost certainly fight over spending and taxes.

If Quinn wants to sell voters on keeping income taxes where they are instead of letting them decrease Jan. 1, he'll have to play the "messenger of hope" to Rauner's "messenger of doom," state Sen. Mike Noland, an Elgin Democrat, said.

Republicans have blasted Democrats' spending plans all year, recently criticizing the idea of borrowing to balance the budget and initially saying the party's doomsday budget fears were overblown.

"Fortunately, the people are a little smarter than that," state Sen. Matt Murphy, a Palatine Republican, said.

For now, the Illinois Senate began debating the plan Wednesday in an effort to push it to Quinn's desk before Saturday's budget deadline.

Changes to the spending plan could still arise in the coming days.

A budget that avoids both cuts and tax increases isn't painless for everyone.

Agencies whose workers care for people with developmental disabilities in group home settings, for example, haven't seen an increase in funding since 2007, which means they've been largely unable to give their workers raises.

Des Plaines-based Avenues to Independence starts its workers at $10 per hour to care for and live with people with disabilities and, along with similar agencies statewide, was hoping for a $30 million bump to raise wages $1 per hour starting Jan. 1.

It's not coming in the budget the House approved, so the agency will continue to struggle to lure workers from similarly paying grocery store jobs nearby.

Executive Director Robert Okazaki referred to the common saying that politicians are "kicking the can down the road."

"Each year, the can gets bigger," he said. "And now it might be filled with cement."

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