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Democrats Regroup, Craft Budget Without Higher Tax

Illinois House Of Representatives

The Illinois House floor. (Credit: CBS)

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Illinois House Democrats scaled back their spending aspirations Monday, saying they’re giving up on extending a temporary income tax increase and getting to work on a more modest budget with just five days left in the spring session.

House Speaker Michael Madigan emerged from a Memorial Day caucus meeting and told reporters that he was dropping the idea of making the 5 percent income tax permanent — and crafting a budget blueprint that holds the line on spending but is not the “doomsday” plan the House overwhelmingly rejected on Friday.

“We’re going to call upon the agencies and those that receive appropriations from the Legislature to live within their means,” said Madigan, a Chicago Democrat. “We understand the way this is. … Let’s take a good hard look at it and get the job done.”

Gov. Pat Quinn, facing a tough re-election campaign against Winnetka Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, spent the spring session encouraging extension of the tax hike to avoid steep cuts. Spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Monday night the Democratic governor is still trying to change minds and hearts on the tax in the session’s final days.

“They should pass a responsible budget that properly funds schools, veterans and public safety services,” Anderson said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

New estimates add $189 million in tax revenue growth to the bank account, Madigan said. Budget makers will look to borrowing built-up money in special funds and spending adjustments to develop a “middle-of-the-road” fiscal outline — between the doomsday scenario and one that increased spending by $3 billion with the continued escalated income tax.

Republican leaders took some credit for stopping the income tax extension, which was adopted four years ago as a temporary hike, but they remained wary of how the Democrats would put together the election year budget that begins July 1.

“This is not going to be the type of budget that a number of House Democrats feel warm about. But there is obviously going to be some pork put into it and that’s how they get some votes at the end of the year,” said House GOP Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs.

Republicans and Democrats agreed last winter on a projected revenue estimate of $34 billion. Quinn wanted the temporary income tax hike made permanent, instead of allowing it to roll back to 3.75 percent in January, resulting in a loss of $1.6 billion. The increase costs the typical taxpayer about $1,100 more this year.

Trying to persuade reluctant votes on the extension, the House two weeks ago adopted a $37 billion budget with more for education, child protective services and prisons. But enthusiasm for the revenue to pay for it never reached critical mass.

The Senate had pledged enough votes to extend the income tax but had balked at a doomsday plan. But without additional revenue, “doomsday isn’t denied, it’s delayed” because flat-level spending won’t keep up with increased costs, said Rikeesha Phelon, spokeswoman for Senate President John Cullerton.

Also on Monday, the House Executive Committee approved two 11th-hour measures that are raising eyebrows at the Capitol. The panel voted 7-4 on Rep. John Bradley’s initiative to short-circuit administrative rule-making on hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for oil and gas. The Marion Democrat’s legislation includes rules for the drilling industry to begin work because he’s frustrated that the Department of Natural Resources hasn’t approved guidelines a year after fracking was approved.

The panel also approved, 10-1, a Madigan plan to break off the world-renowned Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum from the Historic Preservation Agency. Steven Beckett, chairman of the showplace’s advisory board, said work is slowed up because Lincoln library decisions must be approved by the preservation board, which has other duties it must balance.

(TM and © Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)