SPRINGFIELD - Illinois taxpayer dollars appear to have been used to promote Governor Pat Quinn's budget proposal that includes making the 2011 state income tax hike permanent, and those fighting the income tax hike are outraged.
An email obtained via the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) shows that shortly after Governor Quinn's March budget address, pressure started being applied to mayors throughout Illinois. Pressure to become "local ambassadors" for the Governor's budget, which includes making the 2011 tax increase permanent.
According to the FOIA communication, two members of the Governor's staff - Cory Foster and Michael Richards - spoke with representatives of the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus and the Illinois Municipal League (IML), urging the organizations to have their members lobby on behalf of the Governor's proposed budget.
The email, circulated by the Anna Bicanic Moeller, Executive Director of the McHenry County Council of Governments, states:
The Governor's staff asked participants on the call to review the Governor's budget with their members and seek their support. They also said they intend to enlist supporting organizations as 'local ambassadors' to build support for the budget and work it in the General Assembly.
Americans for Prosperity-Illinois' Executive Director David From, who has been leading an effort to stop the 2011 temporary tax hike from becoming permanent, wasn't surprised.
"Unfortunately, the taxpayers are the ones not represented on that phone call with the Governor's office," From said. "But the tax hike is unpopular, and it would make sense that they would need to apply pressure to get the Governor's budget passed."
Burr Ridge Mayor Mickey Straub said that not only had mayors been asked to lobby for the tax hike, they've been threatened to have their state dollars cut if the tax hike isn't passed. Senate President John Cullerton made it clear to DuPage County mayors that without their active support, the budget wouldn't pass, and state support would be drastically cut.
In Moeller's e-mail, one IML representative asked the governor's staff if the governor intended to return their local share back to the 10 percent from the current six percent budgeted for local municipalities. On the call, the staffers reportedly said they didn't know, but would need to get back with an answer.
Straub told Illinois Review that "Not only does the governor not intend to return to the 10 percent level in his 2015 budget, mayors were threatened that if the governor's budget didn't pass, local government's cut would be zeroed out."
"I am not in favor of the tax hike, and I'm not in favor of arm-twisting. I have a hard time believing any promise attached to a threat," said Straub.
The governor's office was contacted for a response concerning this report. IR spoke to Michael Richards, who refused to comment. Richards is no longer working for the governor's Government Affairs office, he is working on the Quinn for Governor campaign. Neither the governor's office nor Cory Foster provided a response.
Still, taxpayer groups are tired of fighting taxpayer-funded lobbying efforts.
"Taxpayer-funded lobbying is always distasteful, but it is particularly egregious when the desired outcome is even higher taxes," Illinois Policy Institute VP Kristina Rasmussen told Illinois Review. "Enough is enough."