Senate leaders push budget plan, won’t cap income tax hike
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Illinois Senate leaders will have to persuade House Speaker Michael Madigan to put a stamp on a “grand bargain” budget package of reforms and revenue in his chamber — even if it includes a term limits constitutional amendment targeting “long term leadership.”
In other words, him.
They also face opposition from unions in their budget package concerning pension reform and workers’ compensation changes, and a number of House members are opposed to an income tax hike and a penny-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages. And the leaders are playing coy about saying the income tax hike would be capped at 4.95 percent.
“We’re taking input,” Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno said when asked about a cap at a Sun-Times Editorial Board meeting on Thursday.
Illinois Senate President John Cullerton also refused to say whether the hike is set in stone.
“The principle here is we’d like it to be as low as possible. But the principle here is to make sure we have a balanced budget going forward for fiscal year 2018,” Cullerton said, adding he’s looking at a budget office analysis and is looking at its deficit and assumption of spending. “And we’re going to see where we are with our members on some of these other revenue provisions like the soda tax to see if we can get to the point where we have a sufficient amount of money to have cuts — but a balanced budget.”
Still, Cullerton and Radogno are putting on a united front with the big hope that their “grand bargain” package of 13 bills — including a temporary property tax freeze, a minimum wage hike, pension reform and a gaming bill — can clear their chamber as soon as next week. It also includes appropriations to help fund human services and higher education, which were cut off from funding when a partial budget expired on Jan. 1. A term limits constitutional amendment is also part of the package. It first included all lawmakers and statewide officers, but then evolved to solely legislative leaders.
“It was for everybody actually [initially] and then there was one situation where it was the constitutional officers as well. And this is because, honestly, I think most people feel that the long term leadership is where the problems have happened,” Radogno said of the term limit evolution.
The budget plan will require some controversial votes, and the bills are bound together, meaning they must pass as a package. Radogno said it’s all about the roll call and how to “cobble together 30 votes.”
“It’s maybe less offensive often to vote for something that you really don’t like, knowing that you get the rest of what comes with it, which is some stability, predictability and a budget for the state,” the Lemont Republican said.
As far as the revenue package, the leaders said there’s still room for changes, but Cullerton ruled out an expansion of the sales tax base for the package. Both leaders also said they’re in support of taxing six-figure retirement incomes but said that measure would be hard to pass, Radogno saying politically, it’s a “third rail.”
“Nobody likes to pay taxes, but taxing retirement income, it’s just the optics. We’ve both talked about it. Let’s start at $100,000 a year. The problem is we have political opposition. We’ve balanced the amount of money you get with the pain that you get from putting it in the package, and it doesn’t seem to fit,” Cullerton said.
The Senate president said they’re reviewing an analysis by the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget showing a $4.3 billion deficit for fiscal year 2017 and a $2.3 billion hole for 2018.
“We haven’t had a chance since this came out to go through their assumptions on spending. And we’ll look at their assumptions on income also. Once we do that … we’ll have to look at our own revenue to make sure that we have a balanced budget,” the North Side Democrat said, adding this year’s budget is already “out of whack” due to the budget impasse.
“The principle is we want to have a balanced budget with cuts for fiscal year ‘18,” Cullerton said. Neither leader elaborated on what those cuts may be.
Cullerton said the two are not negotiating with Gov. Bruce Rauner or Madigan. And he said he hopes to put pressure on the speaker and have the Senate lead by example: “If he [Madigan] doesn’t like it, that’ll be up to him, but we’re not negotiating with him or the governor,” Cullerton said.
He said if the House has a “different version of a comprehensive agreed upon piece of legislation,” the Senate will work to reconcile with them. But the bottom line, he said, is the leaders are not waiting.
“We’re going to pass these bills and you know the pressures, the timeline, we do not need a lifeline, or a stopgap. Pass a supplemental. It’s over in your chamber and they’re going to all see everybody, both sides, that two people from different parties got their caucuses together and passed a comprehensive package of bills. Why can’t they?” Cullerton said. “If some people want to just not pass anything for two years so we can have a political advantage in two years, I didn’t sign up for that and neither did Chris [Radogno].”