SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn spent more than two-and-a-half hours inside the belly of the political beast Monday, but he left the lengthy, closed-door meeting with House Democrats still far short of the votes necessary to permanently extend the 2011 income tax hike.
Facing universal GOP opposition to his plan, Quinn appeared before the 71-member House Democratic caucus armed with a copy of the state constitution to emphasize the state’s role as the primary funder of public schools in Illinois and what could be hit first if tax rates drop in January.
Yet it was clear that even after Quinn warned of grim financial consequences for schools and other state programs if the tax extension fails, he has a long way to go before lining up the 60 House votes he needs to get the measure passed to the Senate before a scheduled May 31 legislative adjournment.
“I think my philosophy in life is hope for the best and work for it. So we’re working real hard on getting those 60 votes in this House of Representatives,” the governor told reporters outside a Statehouse committee room. “Obviously, we have to keep on working until we get there.”
House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, offered a more blunt assessment of the mood among his members after hearing Quinn describe the doomsday scenario that exists if income-tax rates are allowed to drop in January, as scheduled.
“We are significantly away from 60 today, and I’m going to continue to work to find 60 Democrats to pass the governor’s bill,” the speaker said.
“I thought he did an excellent job of presenting his position, arguing for his position, taking questions. He took every question. He answered every question,” Madigan said when asked to sum up his takeaway from the rare meeting between the governor and House Democrats.
“He got very animated in a lot of his answers because at times, he wasn’t hearing what he wanted to hear,” Madigan continued. “I think it’s significant there was opposition expressed from all sectors of our caucus.”
Unless lawmakers act, the 5 percent income tax rate for individuals and the 7 percent rate for corporations will drop in January to 3.75 percent and 5.25 percent, respectively. If that happens, the state faces an estimated $4 billion revenue shortfall in the fiscal year that begins July 1.
Enough support appears to exist within the Democratic-controlled Senate to block the tax rates from falling, making the real battleground the House, where members worry about harsh fallout from voters in the Nov. 4 elections.
Monday’s meeting between the governor and his erstwhile House Democratic allies came after he endured another withering day of being beaten up by Republican gubernatorial rival Bruce Rauner, who labeled Quinn a “tax-and-spend” politician and failed leader who can’t move Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate to do his bidding.
“They’re playing political games and showing a lack of leadership and unfortunately in Springfield, that’s been the status quo,” Rauner said after a campaign event in Northbrook.
“Right now, they’re trying to portray themselves as just doing whatever the voters want. They’re saying voters like more spending so we’re gonna give them more spending. Voters don’t like taxes so we’re just not going to vote on taxes,” Rauner charged.
“That’s political gamesmanship. That’s playing political football with our financial health. It’s a huge mistake. It’s a failure of leadership. It’s a failure of the General Assembly and the governor down there,” Rauner said.
But Quinn returned fire at Rauner, dismissing him for embracing a “radical, extreme” budgetary philosophy, even though he has not served up a specific financial blueprint that enables taxes to drop but safeguards schools, health care for the poor, and other vital programs upon which Illinoisans depend.
“Well, he has a scheme to raise property taxes in Illinois, and I don’t think anybody in Illinois should listen to him when it comes to budgets,” the governor said of his opponent. “He wants to raise our property taxes by starving our schools. That is a learn-less budget. We aren’t going that way.
“We want to learn more in Illinois,” the governor continued. “In order to have good jobs and a growing economy, you should invest in education. He has a radical, extreme plan to hurt our schools and that’s bad for our students and our parents and our teachers.”
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, made clear that his 47-member caucus won’t spare a single vote for the governor’s plan and said whatever action occurs involving the income-tax extension will mark a clear delineation for voters this fall.
“It’ll be very important,” Durkin said of the tax vote. “It’s kind of a defining issue between the parties. It’s the whole issue about the fiscal stewardship over the past 10 years and continuing to request for more money. Remember this was temporary 3 1/2 years ago.”
Durkin also mocked the doom-and-gloom alternative that Quinn and Democrats are offering if a tax vote fails and they have to resort to massive budget-cutting to make up for lost revenues.
“I’ve been hearing that for the past 14 years, and it’s never panned out that way,” he said. “That’s just more gamesmanship we see every budget cycle.”
Madigan would not commit to when he intends to seek a vote on a plan that would block tax rates from dropping in January and that would contain a plan he and Quinn back to give homeowners $500 property-tax rebates.
Nor would the speaker discuss whether he is open to any variations on the income-tax extension or outline a budgetary “Plan B” if he can’t sway enough within his House supermajority to support the governor’s plan.
“We’re not going to go to Plan B until we find those 60 votes,” Madigan said.
The long-serving speaker and state chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois lobbed a verbal stinger at Rauner when asked about the GOP mantra often heard that higher taxes embraced by Democrats are making Illinois businesses and families flee the state.
“People are leaving,” Madigan quipped, “because they’re looking at the prospect of Rauner as governor.”
Contributing: Elise Dismer
McKinney and Dismer reported from Springfield while Korecki reported from Northbrook.