By Scott Reeder and Jes Greene -
SPRINGFIELD – Lawmakers voted on one spending bill after another Thursday until they eventually racked up $2.8 billion more in spending than the Legislature expects to take in during the next budget year.
This sets the stage for a tax hike vote later this month.
“We are attempting to establish a [spending] bar and we are going to work against the bar to get more revenue,” House Speaker Mike Madigan said after an appropriations committee meeting this week.
In 2011, lawmakers passed a hike that raised income taxes by 67 percent but is set to expire next year. Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Gov. Pat Quinn all favor making the tax hike permanent.
But legislative Democrats are divided on the issue and both House and Senate GOP caucuses are opposed. It remains unclear whether there are sufficient votes to pass a tax hike.
State Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, questioned the constitutionality of voting on spending before a tax vote takes place.
“I think it’s illegal,” he said. “It’s required that we have a balanced budget. That means that the revenues have to match the expenditures. It’s my understanding that the budget is going to be $4 billion more than the anticipated revenue, so I don’t see how constitutionally we can even entertain that.”
But state Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, disagreed with this legal assessment.
“I don’t think it’s unconstitutional at all,” he said. “You have to remember that this is just one step in the process. We still don’t know what the Senate is going to approve. It’s still got a ways to go. The important thing is that we don’t make cuts to programs and to the people of my district.”
At the end of Thursday, spending exceeded projected revenues by $2.8 billion. But more spending bills will be considered next week. Those will likely bump that number close to $4 billion.
“It looks to me like they are putting the cart before the horse,” said state Rep. Ron Sandack, R-Downers Grove. He added this might be Madigan’s way of pressuring reluctant members of his Democratic caucus to vote for the tax hike.
But Madigan told reporters he doesn’t pressure his members.
“We talk to people like that,” he said. “We try to persuade people. We try to cajole people. We are not in the business of issuing threats.”
But rank-and-file lawmakers say they are feeling the heat from interest groups and others to vote for making the income tax hike permanent.
“I’ve been visited a lot today by people who know the extension is going to be very vital for social services, hospitals; they’ve all contacted me,” state Rep. Daniel Beiser, D-Alton. “What I’m trying to do right now is I’m trying to figure out what’s best for my district. … What if we don’t extend the tax? What’s going to be cut in my area? Because I don’t need one more job cut in my area. I don’t need anything else closed. I’m going to take all of that into consideration and I’m going to do what’s best for my district.”
His view was echoed by state Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale.
“We have two and a half weeks left in the session to look at whether or not people want to keep the … tax increase that was put into effect three years ago,” he said. “I think we could’ve done things a little bit differently. I’m a freshman down here and whatever they decide to do, I have to make the best of and make my decisions on how I would like to vote.”
Others still said the process defies common sense.
“We have a situation where the General Assembly is passing spending bills without a sure revenue stream,” said state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Bloomington. “We can anticipate all we want to on what may become permanent on the tax, but that’s a very dangerous situation. On the surface, I think it goes against common sense on how one would conduct their budgets at home or their business and this is the state’s budget.”
Scott Reeder and Jes Greene write for Illinois News Network.