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Miller: Dems team up for Quinn's budget address

Published: Monday, March 31, 2014 10:44 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 8, 2014 11:55 a.m. CDT

It turns out that the governor and the two Democratic legislative leaders met privately for at least several days to negotiate details of Gov. Pat Quinn's budget address.

The highly unusual move means that most, if not all aspects of Gov. Quinn's budget proposals last week already have been agreed to by the Democrats who run the Illinois Statehouse.

House Speaker Michael Madigan tipped his hand after the governor’s address during Jak Tichenor's invaluable "Illinois Lawmakers" public television program, when he twice insisted that the governor's property tax proposal was actually his idea.

The governor proposed eliminating the state's property tax credit, which is currently worth five percent of property taxes paid, and replacing it with an automatic $500 tax refund.

That idea was apparently just one of Madigan's demands in exchange for supporting the governor's proposal to make the "temporary" income tax hike permanent, which was the centerpiece of Quinn’s speech.

Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton offered their full support for the governor's income tax proposal on Tichenor's show, with Madigan saying he planned to move a bill forward this spring and Cullerton saying he'd let Madigan go first to make sure there were enough votes before moving ahead in the state Senate, which tends to be far more liberal than Madigan's on stuff like this.

Senate Republicans have claimed that the Democrats were in cahoots this entire spring legislative session to make it appear the budgetary outlook was so bad that the tax hike absolutely had to be made permanent. At least in one respect, they were right. The Democrats apparently have been working closely together for the first time in anyone's memory. Budget addresses are rarely, if ever, negotiated this much in advance of the actual speech.

Quinn spent quite a bit of time during his address not so subtly attacking his Republican opponent Bruce Rauner. Quinn ruled out ever supporting a tax on retirement income, saying he wouldn't balance the budget on the backs of senior citizens.

Rauner has said he'd be open to the idea.

Quinn also said he would oppose any effort to tax small businesses that provide services.

Rauner has said he'd be open to a service tax.

Quinn, however, also announced a five-year, $1.5 billion investment into his "Birth to Five" initiative, which he has claimed would focus on prenatal care, access to early learning opportunities and parental support.

The Ounce of Prevention Fund lavished praise on Quinn's proposal after the speech, and warned of the "potentially devastating cuts that would be necessary without adequate revenue," which seemed like an all but endorsement of the governor's proposal to keep income taxes at their current levels.

Why is that so important? Well, Bruce Rauner's wife, Diana, is the Ounce of Prevention Fund's president.

So, while Rauner blasted the governor's budget address as yet another "broken promise" to Illinoisans, said Quinn was "doubling down on his failed policies" by proposing to keep the tax hike permanent and asserted that he could "balance the budget without more tax increases," Mrs. Rauner's highly respected organization was saying just the opposite, that the budget proposal was a "vital investment in the state's future at a critical juncture."

Heh.

Then again, Diana Rauner's more liberal approach could help soften her husband's hardcore image.

Before the speech, Madigan warned his House Democrats during a closed-door caucus meeting to "keep their powder dry" about the governor's proposals. Madigan doesn't want his members getting too far ahead of the game and making statements that they might have to take back when the velvet hammer comes down on their heads later in the session.

As a consequence, not many were eager to talk about the governor's income tax hike proposal. It wasn't difficult to see in their faces that they knew what was coming, however. They are all in for another extremely tough vote this year. Few want to take that vote, but most know they'll probably have little to no choice in the matter.

One nervous member expressed the hope that the tax hike would simply be extended until the end of the fiscal year, then let Rauner deal with it if he's elected. But that idea was quickly shot down by a top Madigan lieutenant.

"And vote for this again?" he said, incredulously. They already took one vote, after an election during a late evening lame duck session that they've been hammered with constantly for more than three years. No more of those, apparently.

Rich Miller publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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