For Illinoisans who worry about how much more money state politicians want to take from them, Wednesday was an instructive day – not only for what Gov. Pat Quinn had to say in his budget address to the Illinois General Assembly in Springfield, but for what powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan had to say afterward on the public television show “Illinois Lawmakers.”
“If we wish to continue to provide the level of services we’ve become accustomed to – education and other services – then the tax increase should be extended,” Madigan said.
The governor can propose whatever tax increases and spending plans he wants, but it is the Legislature that decides the actual budget. And in a Legislature dominated by Democrats, Madigan wields extensive power (he doubles as chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party).
For Quinn’s plan to make permanent the 67 percent temporary income tax increase approved in the January 2011 lame-duck session, Madigan’s endorsement is significant.
And, as Madigan referred only to continuing current services, it’s clear that serious spending cuts are not on the agenda.
In other words, they think Illinois has a revenue problem, not a spending problem. (Minority Republicans, of course, believe the opposite.)
As for Quinn, he talked about Illinois being in a stronger position now than 5 years ago – despite an 8.7 percent unemployment rate, 13 reductions in the state’s credit rating, and interest payments on unpaid obligations at an all-time high at $318 million a year.
He touted reforms to the state’s pension and worker’s compensation systems, even though those measures have not solved either problem.
While Quinn closed his speech with his familiar refrain, “make the will of the people the law of the land,” we doubt it’s really the will of all the people to permanently hand over an extra week’s pay to the state each year.
The governor no doubt hopes his plan to send a $500 property tax rebate to every homeowner in Illinois, which he mentioned three times, will be remembered by voters who will pass judgment on him in November.
Republican gubernatorial nominee Bruce Rauner decried Quinn’s lack of leadership at the helm of a government that is collecting more money than at any time in its history but is still suffering from credit downgrades, high unemployment, a bill backlog of more than $7 billion, and unfunded pension liabilities of about $100 billion.
Madigan and Quinn are accustomed to getting what they want, before an election and afterward. Our advice: Better watch your wallet.