It’s still up to Illinois Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno to save us from the brink.
Gov. Bruce Rauner did little in his annual budget address Wednesday to help the two most reasonable state leaders in their efforts to reach a compromise that might finally end the state’s two-year budget stalemate.
At best, maybe he didn’t hurt them too much.
In his speech, the governor laid out parameters for the so-called “grand bargain” that he would be willing to accept.
Most notable were probably his declaration that any permanent income tax increase should be accompanied by a permanent property tax freeze, along with a suggestion he’s still open to broadening the state’s sales tax base to apply to services.
That should provide some political cover to legislators signing on to the revenue component of any deal, although at quite a cost to schools and local governments.
In their grand bargain, the Senate leaders have been looking at a temporary two-year property tax freeze and a personal income tax increase from 3.75 percent to 4.99 percent.
In truth, even a temporary freeze could create havoc for schools, cities, counties and townships.
A permanent freeze would be extremely destructive to schools in particular, and therefore totally irresponsible, which unfortunately, might make it just the sort of thing legislators will embrace.
House Democrats already passed a property tax freeze earlier this year, although that was probably just posturing to polish up their voting records, secure in the knowledge it wasn’t going to become law.
It’s hypocritical for leaders of state government, which receives no money from property taxes, to take that source of revenue away from the local governments that depend on it, especially as a tradeoff for an income tax increase that almost exclusively benefits the state.
But they know the idea of a property tax freeze is very popular with voters, several of whom are already typing their angry emails to me.
Freezes are not so popular with anyone who understands how schools are funded in Illinois.
There was speculation Rauner might be willing to accept a temporary income tax increase in exchange for a temporary property tax freeze. It was the temporary income tax increase that helped put us in the current mess.
But Rauner says that if he gets reforms that generate economic growth the income tax could be “stepped down” in the future.
Maybe so, and wouldn’t that be great. I’m not sure he’s going to survive in office long enough to see that happen if he doesn’t get something done now, although I would never count him out.
Rauner had been reluctant previously to be specific about what he would or wouldn’t accept in the grand bargain, and I can appreciate why.
Whenever he says something, it tends to antagonize Democrats while scaring Republicans afraid they will be accused of getting too far ahead of him.
But at a certain point, some legislators just aren’t going to stick their necks out if they don’t know where the governor stands.
That’s especially true for Republicans who are already coming under fire from the party’s conservative wing, but also for Democrats who don’t want to take a vote that gets them in trouble with the unions if Rauner is just going to veto the legislation in the end.
Rauner’s new budget didn’t help matters either.
He insisted it is balanced, an alternative fact that relies on overlooking an admitted $4.6 billion gap between anticipated revenues and expenditures.
As he has done in the past, Rauner told legislators they can find a way to fill the gaping hole or he will. The whole point of the governor proposing a budget is to enumerate how he would do that.
But I’m really not sure it matters at this point.
What matters is whether members of the Senate can figure it out for themselves and move the ball forward.
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