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House Republicans predict ‘sneak’ tax attack by Democrats — insisting Pritzker, Madigan ‘own this budget mess’

House Majority Leader Greg Harris said he has “not heard of any tax increase proposals,” adding that Republicans are following “their traditional path” of saying there should be budget cuts though they’re not proposing any cuts of their own. 

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in March; House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, center, in 2018; House Speaker Mike Madigan, right, in 2015.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, in March; House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, center, in 2018; House Speaker Mike Madigan, right, in 2015.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times; Rich Hein/Sun-Times

House Republican leaders said Monday they expect their Democratic colleagues to “sneak” a tax increase into the General Assembly’s looming lame duck session, a claim a Democratic leader said was nothing more than “politics as usual.”

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, along with Deputy Republican leaders Tom Demmer of Dixon and Dan Brady of Bloomington, said in a virtual news conference Monday morning that state Speaker Michael Madigan and Gov. J.B. Pritzker “own this budget mess and its errors” after passing a budget that hinged on the passage of a move to a graduated income tax rate.

“They refused to listen to our warnings over and over again, and now, after voters just sent the Democrats a message, Madigan and his cohorts will be trying to sneak a tax increase … into the lame duck session,” Durkin said.

That move to a graduated income tax failed to pass in November and Pritzker warned at the time “there will be cuts. And they will be painful.”

Asked about his own proposed cuts to the budget, Durkin didn’t provide suggestions because he still hasn’t seen a list of cuts Pritzker asked agencies to make in 2019. He wants to start with that list when proposing new cuts, he said.

A spokeswoman for Pritzker did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Demmer said the appropriations committees of the House and the Senate should meet and bring in agency directors and leaders in the state’s executive branch to see what ideas they’ve shared with the governor about potential cuts to their budget as a starting point for talking about the state’s finances.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, left, and state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, last year.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, left, and state Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, last year.
Neal Earley/Sun-Times file

“We need to understand what the options are, and hear directly from individuals who are responsible for carrying out the budgets, what options exist,” Demmer said. “The Legislature needs to be involved in this. This is no longer a situation where one person can govern. We need to work on this together, and the way to do that is by convening appropriations committees to hear directly from the people responsible for this.”

State House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said the GOP news conference was just “politics as usual.”

“I have not heard of any tax increase proposals,” Harris said, adding that Republicans are following “their traditional path” of saying there should be budget cuts though they’re not proposing any cuts of their own.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, in 2019.
House Majority Leader Greg Harris last year.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times file

A potential tax increase coming before legislators was floated by Madigan last month during a forum with the Black Caucus designed to shore up the Southwest Side Democrat’s bid for another term as speaker.

Madigan said at the time that he’s prepared to vote for an increase in the state’s flat income tax rate, a vote he said is “very possible” given the state’s fiscal predicament.

Last month, Pritzker authorized $711 million in budget cuts in offices under his control for the 2021 fiscal year as part of an attempt to close a nearly $4 billion budget gap.

In November, the state’s Office of Management and Budget projected “sizeable deficits” in the state’s future, ranging from $4.8 billion in fiscal year 2022 to $4.2 billion by fiscal year 2026, according to a report from that office on the state’s economic and fiscal policy.

The House is slated to meet starting Friday for its lame duck session ahead of the swearing in of newly elected and re-elected members on Jan. 13.

Legislators initially planned to meet in late November and early December for their fall veto session but decided against meeting in person due to concerns around rising COVID-19 case numbers and upcoming holidays.