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updated: 5/30/2014 5:06 PM

Illinois budget: Promise kept or procrastination?

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  • Lawmakers will leave the Capitol by Saturday, embarking on campaigns with questions remaining about the state's financial future.

      Lawmakers will leave the Capitol by Saturday, embarking on campaigns with questions remaining about the state's financial future.
    Associated Press File Photo

 
 

SPRINGFIELD -- State lawmakers have nearly completed approving a spending plan that puts off big questions about the state's financial future and how much its residents should pay in taxes until after the contentious November election.

The debate over spending in the Illinois Senate could foreshadow what candidates will be saying to each other on the campaign trail in the suburbs, with local Democrats ready to tout they kept their campaign promises and didn't extend the 2011 income tax hike and Republicans saying the budget is an irresponsible exercise in procrastination.

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"We're doing our best to live within our means provided by those same taxpayers we work for," state Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, said.

Illinois Senate Democrats, led in part by Kotowski, a budget committee chairman, approved budget proposals this afternoon and prepared to send them to Gov. Pat Quinn.

Republicans, though, tried to point to 2011, when the legislature approved an income tax increase after the election with the help of lame-duck lawmakers. State Sen. Kirk Dillard, a Hinsdale Republican, said credit watchers think 2014 could be a repeat showing.

"Wall Street thinks that's your plan, as well," Dillard told Democrats.

The budget plan that Quinn can weigh in June spares most state agencies "savage" cuts the governor promised would happen if the tax hike wasn't extended.

Mayors get to keep their share of the state's income taxes after some Democrats threatened to take it away. Suburban school districts won't see a big change in what they get from the state.

And some workers who take care of the elderly and disabled likely won't see a pay raise for the seventh year in a row.

To cover those costs, Democrats raised their income estimates for next year by $200 million and planned to borrow money for the state's general checkbook from more specialized government accounts that, for example, collect fees from licenses and other programs.

State Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat, was not on board with his fellow Democrats. He voted against the proposal and called the spending plan "unbalanced, unprincipled" and "irresponsible."

"There comes a time when kicking the can down the road can be seen as an addiction," Noland said.

"At least this member of the rank-and-file is not going to be participating in what I think is a charade," he continued.

Quinn will have a month to think about what he wants to do with the spending plan his party sent him.

He could tinker with the proposal, veto it and demand more revenue or sign off and let the state budget become a key battleground in his campaign against Republican candidate Bruce Rauner of Winnetka.

Lawmakers also are expected to shortly after midnight send Quinn a $1.1 billion plan to spend more on road projects using money culled from increased vehicle fees and other revenue that comes from former Gov. George Ryan's 1999 Illinois First construction program.

Meanwhile, lawmakers made changes to a major tax break program for businesses that would make it easier for small businesses to qualify.

"For the first time, smaller employers will actually have the opportunity to get an Edge credit," state Rep. Jack Franks, a Maregno Democrat, said.

The program has become a high-profile one among lawmakers, who offered it to Sears Holdings Corp. in 2011 to keep the company in Hoffman Estates and declined to do the same for Office Depot, which decided last year to abandon the old Office Max headquarters in DuPage County.

State Rep. David Harris said the plan would also take lawmakers away from having to decide who specifically reaps the benefits of the Edge tax credit.

"(This) effectively stops us having to pick winners and losers," he said.

Daily Herald staff writer Zachary White contributed to this story

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