Illinois House Democrats reject budget cuts
SPRINGFIELD -- Illinois House Democrats have both shied away from keeping the state's income tax hike and rejected the spending cuts they say would be needed if taxes drop, raising big questions about what happens next as lawmakers left the Capitol for the weekend and the May 31 budget deadline looms.
Suburban lawmakers of both parties today were united in soundly rejecting a sweeping spending cuts proposal by a 5-107 vote. Earlier this week, House Speaker Michael Madigan said Democrats have barely half the votes they need to approve extending the income tax hike that could prevent the cuts.
The move puts in limbo taxpayers who are wondering how much they'll have to pay in 2015 and the school leaders, caretakers, park rangers and prison guards whose daily lives depend on the state's financial condition.
Illinois' 5 percent income tax rate is set to drop to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1.
Lawmakers will return on Monday to try again for a budget agreement.
State Rep. Carol Sente, a Vernon Hills Democrat, said she voted against the pared-back spending plan because it takes millions of dollars away from schools and human services, which pays for care for the disabled, elderly and poor.
"It cuts those two, and it cuts spending on other things much too dramatically," Sente, who opposes extending the tax hike, said. "It was absolutely not acceptable."
Republicans opposed the budget for different reasons. State Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights argued Democrats overstated how deep cuts would need to be and called today's spending proposal "absolute horse feathers."
"We don't think that senior citizens will be kicked out of nursing homes," Harris said. "We believe we can hold the line."
One of the rare supporters was state Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat, whose budget committee had previously prepared a more austere spending plan. He criticized the GOP for not helping construct a budget deal.
"We know they're not going to play," he said.
Going forward, House Democrats will have to come to an agreement with the Senate, which has been more likely to favor a tax hike extension.
State Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Park Ridge Democrat, said lawmakers could look in other places for more revenue, perhaps, for example, extending the Illinois sales tax to apply to services like hair cuts. It's unclear if there's enough time to change course on controversial tax plans.
But the House's actions, he said, might force some changes.
"This compels other areas to be put on the table," Kotowski said.
Beyond the budget battle's consequences for government programs, the results likely will be toward the top of the list of issues candidates debate in the campaign to the Nov. 4 election.
Suburban Democrats that could have tough races, for example, have declined to extend the tax hike.
Gov. Pat Quinn has championed the extension and slammed GOP candidate Bruce Rauner for not offering his own plans.
Quinn could face trouble if he both has taken the political risk of supporting higher taxes and also has to make budget cuts if lawmakers don't go along.
Shortly after the budget vote, Democrats approved Madigan's plan to ask voters in November whether the state should add a 3 percent tax on incomes more than $1 million.
It was approved by a 64-46 vote, with Democrats voting for it and Republicans voting against.
"This is a good idea," state Rep. Kathleen Willis, an Addison Democrat, said. "Why would it be a bad idea to ask people their opinion?"
Republicans, though, criticized the move as a populist political ploy to drive Democrats to vote in November.