Tom Kacich: Area legislators not yet sold on Quinn's tax hike
The two Democratic state lawmakers who represent Champaign-Urbana aren't committing yet to Gov. Pat Quinn's plan to make permanent the "temporary" 67 percent income-tax increase enacted in 2011.
Both Rep. Naomi Jakobsson of Urbana and Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign say they would have preferred a more comprehensive tax proposal that included a progressive, or graduated, income tax as opposed to the current 5 percent flat tax.
"I think it's clear that we don't want to have devastating cuts to our schools, and our colleges, and for public safety in the state. I was hoping for a weightier discussion about a fundamental reworking of our entire tax structure, to make Illinois more fair and more competitive," Frerichs said.
A progressive income tax "should be part of that discussion," he said.
"It's not something we do very often," Frerichs said. "I told people that when this tax expires we'll have a campaign talking about different ways to make this state more fair and more competitive. But a discussion starts with at least one conversation, and so this is the governor's proposal. Hopefully it leaves us time for some other suggestions."
As for Quinn's plan to make the income tax increase permanent, Frerichs said, "It just came out the other day and we need to see how this is going to affect institutions in my district and taxpayers in my district."
He said his vote on any tax measure would be based on his state Senate district, not on his candidacy for state treasurer on the Democratic ticket.
"I was elected a state senator for the 52nd District and that's the job that I have and will be executing when I am voting this year," he said.
Frerichs voted for the temporary tax increase in January 2011 and suffered no ill effects from that vote in the 2012 general election. Asked why he wouldn't vote to make it permanent, he said, "That was the option on the table at the time. It was supposed to be temporary, and one of the original ideas was that we would have a gubernatorial election to help decide the direction for the state.
"I think that the option that (Republican gubernatorial candidate) Bruce Rauner has put forward is cutting funding for things for our K through 12 schools, cutting funding for our colleges like the University of Illinois and Parkland (College) and (Danville Area Community College), cutting funding for things like public safety. I think that's the wrong direction to go."
Asked if it would be a tougher vote for him this spring, Frerichs said, "Legislators are elected to make tough decisions."
Jakobsson, on the other hand, is retiring in January. She was sponsor of a progressive income tax proposal that failed in a House committee Thursday, but she disputed that it's dead.
"I don't know if you'd call it dead," she said. "While the revenue committee was voting on my bill, there was a rally in the (Capitol) rotunda, and I understand that Sen. (Don) Harmon had several of his colleagues with him and he's planning on moving forward with his separate Senate bill. So we'll see what happens in the Senate. There's still time for some education."
With the graduated income tax — which wouldn't become effective for years, even with a favorable vote from citizens this fall — "we wouldn't have to do (the income tax extension)," Jakobsson said. "But what are our choices? We extend that, or we make these huge cuts which we've already been reading about, with school districts and universities saying how devastating the cuts would be. It would be across the board, whether it's law enforcement or education or many other services the state provides."
Jakobsson said she was surprised when she heard that House Speaker Michael Madigan wanted a vote on the income tax extension this spring, "but he doesn't run everything by me."
As for her colleagues, many of whom will be reluctant to vote for a tax increase six months before Election Day, Jakobsson said, "I've heard a lot of mixed messages from my colleagues. Some are certainly on board, some are saying, 'I don't know, I don't know if we can do that.'"
Davis moves to middle
Maybe it was a political decision and maybe it wasn't, but that was an interesting vote last week by U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, on HR 1459, the "Ensuring Public Involvement in the Creation of National Monuments Act."
Davis was one of only 10 House Republicans to vote against the measure, which he said would hinder a president's ability to set aside lands for national parks and monuments.
"The powers given to the Executive Branch by the Antiquities Act have been used responsibly throughout the years by both Republican and Democratic administrations for national treasures like the Grand Canyon, the Statue of Liberty and the Grand Teton," Davis said.
The congressman, who faces Democrat Ann Callis in the November election in a district that is called only marginally Republican, said he has "heard from many people in the 13th District who said that they enjoy taking their families to national parks across the country but expressed concerns that this legislation could negatively impact that in the future. I may not agree with the president on many issues, but to take away that office's ability to designate national parks and monuments is a huge mistake, and it should not be subject to politics."
The Antiquities Act was passed in 1906 and signed by President Theodore Roosevelt.
Davis was the only Illinois Republican to vote against the measure, joining with all 13 Illinois House Democrats.
Under current law, the president has the power to designate a national monument without public process or environmental review when the property and the objects contained there are of historic or scientific interest. The legislation approved by the House would limit declarations to no more than one per state during any four-year presidential term of office without the approval of Congress.
Independent maps campaign
The signature-gathering campaign to begin to change the way that state legislative boundaries are drawn in Illinois is nearing an end. May 4 is the deadline for the Yes for Independent Maps group to file at least 300,000 petition signatures to get the issue on the November general election ballot.
It's pretty clear, based on the way organizers have been talking for months, that they'll reach that goal. But local organizers are planning one more push.
They'll be at the Beckett & Webber law offices, 508 S. Broadway Ave., Urbana, from 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday so that people can stop by to sign a petition, return completed petitions and have them notarized.
According to the Champaign County Chamber of Commerce, it has collected more than 2,300 signatures.
Speaking of the chamber of commerce, it will host a meeting for chamber members with Rauner from 8:15 to 9:15 a.m. April 15 at a Champaign location to be determined. Ryan Roth, the chamber's public policy director, said he's attempting to set up a similar meeting with Gov. Pat Quinn, the Democratic candidate for re-election.
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Sundays and Wednesdays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or firstname.lastname@example.org.