Jim Dey: Quinn says major cuts ahead if tax hike expires
GOP critics say governor hasn't kept promises to pay state's debts
Fresh from proposing that legislators make the state's temporary 5 percent income tax permanent, Gov. Pat Quinn warned Friday that public education in Illinois will suffer grievously if his recommendation is not followed.
"There is no way the University of Illinois is not going to have major cutbacks if we do not get our budget," Quinn said during a telephone interview with The News-Gazette.
He said that if the 5 percent tax is not made permanent and falls back to 3.75 percent on Jan. 1, there will be "severe cutbacks" across state government, including "cutting education in a very draconian way."
Democratic legislative leaders responded favorably this week to Quinn's budget address. Both House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton indicated that they would urge the Democrat-controlled House and Senate to move with dispatch on Quinn's tax proposal, suggesting it will be enacted when the General Assembly adjourns by the end of May.
Quinn welcomed that support.
"It's imperative to get it done in the regular legislative session," he said.
During his talk with The News-Gazette, Quinn took the opportunity to lampoon his Republican critics — "these apostles of doing nothing" — by suggesting that their opposition to making the tax hike permanent would "cause great harm to our state."
On Wednesday, Quinn released a recommended $38.6 billion state budget for the fiscal year that takes effect on July 1. That includes a recommended appropriation of $668 million for the University of Illinois, essentially flat funding. But it's far better than having to endure the 12.5 percent cut UI officials have been told to expect if the tax hike is not made permanent.
Republicans have accused Quinn and his various executive branch department directors of making worst-case scenario budget projections in an effort to stampede legislators into a permanent tax hike. They further have charged that the 2011 lame-duck income tax increase has been poorly used and that promises to pay off the state's multibillion-dollar backlog of unpaid bills and stabilize the budget have not been kept.
Not surprisingly, Quinn rejected those assertions Friday, charging that it's Republicans, including his gubernatorial foe Bruce Rauner, who have not been honest.
Quinn said the state has reduced its backlog of unpaid bills from $9.9 billion to $5 billion and that he plans eventually to "get to a 30-day payment cycle."
"We're getting very close to that now," he said, while citing a report by Chicago's Civic Federation estimating that the state's unpaid bills will skyrocket to $23 billion if the temporary tax is not made permanent.
Quinn cast his budget recommendations as part of an effort to achieve "fundamental tax reform," suggesting that he wants to place more emphasis on the state's income tax so that Illinois can reduce overall property taxes.
Among his budget proposals is a $500 annual rebate for homeowners. He also proposed doubling the state's earned-income tax credit for low-income earners and appropriating an extra $50 million in aid for college students.
Never shy about taking the fight to his opposition — either Democrat or Republican — Quinn was surprisingly reticent about addressing two proposed state constitutional amendments, a so-called millionaire's tax proposed by Speaker Madigan and a more comprehensive progressive income tax plan suggested by legislative Democrats, including state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson.
A House committee this week approved Madigan's millionaire tax, which would impose a 3 percent surcharge on incomes in excess of $1 million a year. The same committee rejected another plan that would allow the imposition of undisclosed but multiple tax rates on higher levels of income.
Quinn is a longtime supporter of a progressive tax plan but largely declined comments on the Madigan proposal — he has said it's "worth considering" — because the governor is not a part of the process of amending the Illinois Constitution. Under the rules, legislators can put a proposal on the ballot and let voters decide whether to pass it.
Long an advocate of the citizen initiative process, Quinn called it a "real healthy exercise for democracy."
Quinn did not spend all his time discussing state budget issues. A longtime basketball fan whose brother is a retired high school coach, the governor said he's been watching the NCAA tournament and backing the University of Dayton, a fresh face, and, like him, considered "an underdog."
Dayton beat Stanford on Thursday to reach today's Elite Eight.
Quinn also said he's a big Illinois basketball fan who expects John Groce's team to move up the ladder. Quinn described Groce as a "driven guy" who he expects to succeed.