Dems cast gov race as referendum on permanent tax hike

2014-06-09T00:00:00Z Dems cast gov race as referendum on permanent tax hikeKurt Erickson Lee Springfield Bureau
June 09, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Former Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley — the first Mayor Daley — is often credited with coining the phrase: "Good politics is good government."

It isn't surprising, then, that the three Democrats in charge of Illinois government took his advice as they navigated their way through the recently ended spring legislative session.

After all, Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton were cutting their teeth in Chicago politics when the late mayor was still cutting deals.

While it may have appeared that members of the Illinois House chickened out of approving an extension of the state's temporary income tax increase before they left town last week, it was actually a fairly well-scripted end-game designed to protect them from criticism heading into the November election.

The plan that ultimately emerged as the spring session ground to an end was predicted in this space just a few weeks ago when we said leaving the tax hike question unanswered would allow the Democrats to cast the race for governor between Quinn and wealthy businessman Bruce Rauner as a referendum on whether the temporary tax increase should be made permanent.

Rauner, who opposes the extension, has made the Democratic storyline a bit easier by refusing thus far to outline what he'd do to solve the state's budget problems.

Anyone doubting that the end-of-session results were part of a Democratic game plan should pay close attention to what Cullerton said when asked if the Legislature approved a six-month budget designed purely to get the state through the next election.

Cullerton essentially said it was a partial year budget for nearly every state agency except local schools.

"Not for education. We've appropriated for education a little bit of an increase," he said.

That means he fully expects to deal with the issue of dwindling revenue when the General Assembly returns after the election.

Cullerton said not dealing with the tax hike was not a bad thing because Democrats were upfront about saying an increase is needed.

"I don't think its ducking the issue. We wanted to do it before the election. Now, apparently, we'll have to do it after the election," Cullerton said.

And, he added, it won't be just an extension of the tax increase that is talked about in November.

"Everything can be on the table in terms of revenue. It doesn't have to be just the extension," Cullerton said, pointing to a series of changes to business taxes, including a possible expansion of the state's sales tax base.

Rauner has said he's against extending the income tax hike. If he wins, look for some serious horse-trading on business taxes. Perhaps the Democrats will offer a cut in corporate taxes in exchange for an end to some other kinds of business tax loopholes.

If Quinn wins, you can bet a vote on a tax extension by a number of lame duck lawmakers will soon become the focus of the General Assembly.

Is it good government?

Democrats would have preferred to exchange the temporary tax increase for a graduated income tax system that would have taxed people like Rauner at a higher rate.

But when it became clear a proposed constitutional amendment on a graduated income tax wasn't going to happen, the people who grew up in the shadow of Daley went to their Plan B — good politics.


Another item on the list of things the Legislature didn't do this spring is continue the practice of taking 12 furlough days a year.

As it turned out, the whole furlough scheme was unconstitutional because lawmakers cannot change their salaries during their term in office.

The end result of abandoning the gimmick is that all 177 members of the House and Senate will receive $3,100 more than they currently take home in a year.

Hoping to blunt the headlines about giving themselves raises, some lawmakers stepped forward last week to say they are giving the extra cash to charity.

"I will not accept this pay increase and will donate those funds to charity, including the ongoing recovery efforts for tornado victims in my hometown of Gifford," said state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, who is running for state treasurer.

State Rep. Sue Scherer, D-Decatur, also plans to give the extra money back or give it to charity.

The opinions are the writer's. Kurt Erickson is the Lee Enterprises Springfield bureau chief. He can be reached at or (217) 782-4043.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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