Lame duck session fosters movement on taxes

SPRINGFIELD — The support of lame-duck lawmakers — mostly Democrats in the Illinois House who lost their elections in November — was critical to the overnight approval of the Illinois tax-increase plan.

Outgoing lawmakers Tuesday night had only hours left before their terms ended Wednesday. So they didn't necessarily have to worry about voter retribution at the polls that could come with voting for a 66 percent increase in income taxes.

Because the legislation received only the minimum number of votes it needed in both the House and Senate, the support of lame-duck lawmakers was critical.

In the House, more than half a dozen outgoing lawmakers voted “yes” for the tax hike, most of them from downstate. None were Republicans.

From the suburbs, Paul Froehlich, a Schaumburg Democrat, voted for the increase, as did Mark Walker of Arlington Heights. Froehlich didn't run for re-election in 2010, and Walker was defeated in November.

Walker had previously opposed tax increases for fear of the damage it might do to Illinois businesses. But Walker said Wednesday that he decided the consequences of having a state crippled by billions of dollars in unpaid bills were more severe than the consequences a tax hike might have on the economy.

“I was convinced that we could stand the pain in the state economically,” Walker said.

He said he would have voted for the legislation whether he was defeated in November or not.

In the Senate, Michael Bond, a Grayslake Democrat, was defeated in November but voted “no” on the tax hike.

University of Illinois political scientist Kent Redfield said timing is key to winning approval of controversial legislation.

He said a tax increase maybe could have won support in May as part of lawmakers' annual budget process.

But if Democrats wanted a tax increase sooner, Redfield said, they had to do it after the election and before new lawmakers were sworn in.

“It had to be done during the lame duck session,” Redfield said.

Still, he said, the tax increase doesn't absolve new lawmakers of Illinois' money troubles.

“This just makes us less broke,” Redfield said.

In all, lawmakers from the suburbs voted overwhelmingly against the tax plan. They include Sen. Michael Noland, an Elgin Democrat, who said he'd consider voting for an income tax increase if Illinoisans could get relief from their property tax bills as part of the deal.

There was no such relief in the final plan, and Noland voted “no” as promised.

“Your yes has to mean yes,” Noland said. “Your no has to mean no.”

“What we did last night was not tax reform,” he added.

Yet Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, argued lawmakers did approve budget reform. She sponsored a law that will change the way the state projects how much money it will make and force officials to pay off debt before sending money to various programs. It was approved by lawmakers and awaits Quinn's review.

Still, Sente said that wasn't enough for her to support a tax increase.

“Regardless of what would have happened with my budgeting for outcomes bill, I would not have voted for an income tax at this time,” she said.

New suburban lawmakers sworn in Wednesday didn't have to take the tough vote on taxes. But Rep. Chris Nybo, an Elmhurst Republican who began his first term Wednesday, criticized the last-minute flurry of activity.

“They have a ceremony where they say we're all together, and everyone has an equal voice,” Nybo said. “But the way it actually materialized was things got ramrodded through at the eleventh hour.”

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