Suburban lawmakers endure wrath to support budget with income tax hike
A divided Illinois House delivered a long-absent budget and a 32 percent income tax increase Thursday with some suburban Republicans risking their seats to rebuff Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto.
Republican state Reps. Mike Fortner, David Harris and Steve Andersson pushed Democratic legislation over the top to provide what supporters believe will stabilize a state teetering on the brink of junk bond status.
They also defied Republican Rauner in overriding his veto of the $36.5 billion budget and shift of the personal income tax rate to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent.
Detractors, including several suburban Democrats who defected from the party line, called the tax hike too high a price to pay.
It was a dramatic moment in a bizarre day punctuated by a hazmat scare with police putting the Capitol in Springfield on lockdown after an unknown substance was scattered in the governor's office and other locations. No one was injured.
"If we don't pass this, it's not just a certainty of a bond downgrade; we're also out of money," said Andersson, of Geneva. "State employees will be laid off, (there will be) discreditation of our universities. We go into free fall. It's either this or a financial meltdown."
Harris, of Arlington Heights, said Illinois faced a financial abyss. "The state is imploding financially and action is required."
"It is time to right this ship of state and provide some stability and order to what has been nothing but confusion and chaos. I hate to vote for an override. I hate to vote for a tax increase. But in this case I believe it's the right vote," Harris said.
West Chicagoan Fortner called the budget balanced and equipped to start paying back Illinois' backlog of bills. "There are real reforms that have gone forward," he said.
The Illinois Senate on Tuesday easily batted away the veto in a 36-18 vote.
Feuding between Democrats and Republican Rauner has left Illinois budgetless for two years; the state is saddled with a $6.2 billion annual deficit and owes businesses, vendors and social service agencies $14.7 billion.
The issue put Republicans who broke ranks on the defensive and facing withering comments such as "turncoat" on social media, in emails and in phone messages.
Andersson's cellphone number was given out by opponents, resulting in myriad angry calls and texts, he said.
But people also offered encouragement with statements such as "this is what leadership looks like" in one Facebook post.
Lawmakers acknowledged they could face primary election challenges as a result of their votes.
"It was a really tough vote," Harris said. "We'll see if someone wants to run against me on that issue. ... It's their right."
Andersson noted: "I didn't feel happy, but it was the best of two lousy options. I'm proud of taking a hard vote to save our state. I don't intend this to cost me my seat. I'll fight hard to keep it."
Harris also noted the lack of a budget was decimating some parts of Illinois. Small businesses downstate "are owed hundreds of thousands of dollars and can't make ends meet because the state is such a deadbeat," he said.
Harris was hopeful property tax and business reforms will continue, and Andersson said he thinks the bipartisan vote has generated respect "that will allow good things to happen."
Andersson said many of the negative comments he received came from non-constituents. But he did inform Illinois State Police about a death threat he received on Facebook. Officers investigated and found the person who made it, he said.
Lawmakers voted 71-42 on the tax hike and 74-37 on the budget itself.
As for what the tax increase means for residents:
• A single person who earns $34,000 a year will pay an additional $382 a year.
• A family of three making $75,000 a year will pay an additional $822 a year.
• A family of four earning $150,000 a year will pay an additional $1,695 a year.
• A 66-year-old retiree who has $5,000 in taxable earnings plus Social Security and pension income, which are not taxed in Illinois, will pay an additional $22 a year.
• Daily Herald Staff Writer Jamie Sotonoff contributed to this report.
On Sunday, 15 House Republicans voted to increase the personal income tax rate. Eleven of those voted Thursday to override Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's veto of the measure. Some Democrats went against their party and voted against it.
Suburban Republicans voting yes: Steve Andersson, R-Geneva; Mike Fortner, R-West Chicago; David Harris, R-Arlington Heights.
Suburban Democrats voting no: Martin Moylan, D-Des Plaines; Michelle Mussman, D-Schaumburg; Sam Yingling, D-Round Lake Beach.
The switches were offset by three Democrats who changed their votes: Reps. Sue Scherer, of Decatur; Rita Mayfield, of Waukegan; and Natalie Manley, of Joliet.
- See the full list at <a href=" http://chicago.suntimes.com/news/heres-how-the-illinois-house-voted-for-tax-bill-override/amp/">chicago.suntimes.com</a>.