PI Original Angela Caputo Thursday May 14th, 2009, 6:41pm

Doomsday Eve?

With 10 days until the legislative session comes to a close in Springfield, state budget negotiations are really getting down to the wire. But with no credible alternatives to Gov. Quinn's income tax hike proposal emerging, budget office spokeswoman Marcelyn Love says ...

With 10 days until the legislative session comes to a close in Springfield, state budget negotiations are really getting down to the wire. But with no credible alternatives to Gov. Quinn's income tax hike proposal emerging, budget office spokeswoman Marcelyn Love says we should expect to see a "doomsday" budget outlined tomorrow -- meaning a spending plan with no revenue increases and devastating cuts to state programs.

Astonishingly, even this prospect isn't setting off alarm bells down in Springfield. Earlier today, House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago) told us that, while there is a lot of buzz about the lack of votes for Quinn's income tax hike, she's yet to hear "much discussion" about solutions. Considering the gravity of the situation -- without any new revenue, lawmakers will have to agree on $7.5 billion worth of cuts to the $30 billion General Fund -- information flowing out of Springfield is eerily sparse.

A Medill reporter, however, provides this tidbit on where members in the House stand:

[Rep. Greg] Harris estimates there are currently 42 state representatives in support of the income tax increases needed to avoid programming cuts. The measure would need 60 votes to pass in the State House this month or a supermajority of 71 votes to pass after May 31.

While Quinn is standing firm on his income tax hike, he has indicated that he's willing to negotiate on other aspects of his plan, as the Daily Herald reports:

Quinn said Thursday he still wants to raise the tax rate from 3 percent to 4.5 percent. He also said the change should be permanent, not temporary. [...]

Quinn did suggest he's willing to bend on tax relief.

He originally proposed increasing a tax break that applies to every family, but Quinn now says he'll consider steering more tax relief to the working poor and to homeowners.

Earlier this month, Rich Miller had this to say about the prospect of implementing a "doomsday" budget:

If [House Speaker Michael] Madigan did that again this year the result would likely be catastrophic. But perhaps a catastrophe might have to occur to wake everybody up to how serious this situation really is. Voters might be more open to a tax hike if they saw their state and local governments collapse.

Let's hope it doesn't come to that.  After all, it's one thing to propose such a budget and another to pull the trigger on it.  Larry Joseph, a budget and policy wonk with Voices for Illinois Children, hopes the rollout of the "doomsday" plan adds some much-needed urgency to the negotiations.

Joseph has been crunching the numbers for months now and based on his "conservative" analysis (more of which can be found in his recent, and illuminating, report on Illinois finances), 75 percent of next year's operating budget is tied to fixed costs -- the biggies being debt service, education, and Medicaid -- the last of which has to be funded or the state forfeits $4 billion worth of stimulus money. In other words, there's little wiggle room for drastic reductions.

By Joseph's count, it would take a 60 percent across-the-board cut on non-mandated spending -- including police, prisons, parks, courts and human services -- to plug the deficit. Rep. Will Burns (D-Chicago) says that should be "a wake-up call," but also acknowledged from the House floor this afternoon that a lot of lawmakers just aren't facing the harsh economic realities.

In the meantime, the Campaign for Illinois' Future, a broad coalition of labor unions, advocacy groups, and community organizations, is keeping the pressure on lawmakers to come up with a solid and sustainable plan for funding the state's obligations. Yesterday, the coalition drew nearly 2,000 people to the state capitol for a "Raise My Taxes" rally, in which they lobbied lawmakers for progressive tax reform.

"We just want to make sure that the budget's fair. The flat tax is bad for our folks, for working families," Action Now's Denise Dixon tells us. "We're tired of paying more for less."

We'll be looking closely tomorrow to see what emerges.

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