SPRINGFIELD, Ill. | Illinois Senate President John Cullerton said Monday that he's confident his chamber could find the votes to extend the state's income tax increase but fears other proposals may face a tougher road this spring.
In an interview with The Associated Press, Cullerton said he thinks there is a "good chance" the Senate can reach the 30-vote threshold needed to permanently keep the state's income tax increase at its current 5 percent. If the rate rolls back to 3.75 percent as scheduled next January, it's expected to create a loss of $1.6 billion in revenue, which Cullerton says would force "drastic" cuts to education and social services.
But because the tax increase faces a more difficult path in the state House, where Speaker Michael Madigan has a slimmer majority, the Chicago Democrat says the vote should start there first.
"He has a tougher task, but we've both had success in trying to pass tough bills," Cullerton said.
Meanwhile, Cullerton also outlined various obstacles for plans to increase the state's minimum wage, pass gambling expansion legislation and fix municipal pension systems across the state before the conclusion of the session later this month.
While a push to increase the state's minimum wage from its current $8.25 to $10.65 an hour falls in line with a national Democratic election-year strategy, the proposal in the Illinois Statehouse lacks support from Democrats in swing suburban and downstate districts facing tough re-election bids.
"I think, politically, there are still businesses, restaurants that are lobbying against it," Cullerton said. "So many of the Democrats who I think should vote for it are not yet there."
He described a "plan B" approach of placing a nonbinding resolution on the November ballot asking voters whether the state should increase the minimum wage as a more politically feasible option. Allowing vulnerable Democrats to see how their districts feel about the plan first, he said, could boost the courage of members, prompting them to vote for the proposal after the election.
At the same time, Cullerton said the fate of gambling expansion legislation estimated to bring between $400 million to $1 billion in revenue a year to the state is in the House's hands.
State Rep. Bob Rita's plan was passed by the state Senate last year and could be passed again by the chamber, he said. The plan still faces uncertainties in the House because of regional divides, and with the governor's office, where Gov. Pat Quinn has outlined a number of ethical and regulatory concerns with past proposals.
While the Legislature recently approved a plan for two of Chicago's systems after grappling for years with how to address the state's nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liability, Cullerton says fixing municipalities' pensions throughout the state will be more complicated, as they're in many levels of financial shape.
He described recent ongoing meetings with municipal leaders and unions in regards to downstate pension systems but said the effort is "more complicated" because there cannot be an across the board change.
By law, the spring legislative session ends in June, with lawmakers often waiting until the last minute to pass major bills.
But Cullerton said there's a chance that both the budget and tax increase could get wrapped up early this year.
"We finish up on a Saturday, which this time a year in May, you have people who have graduations and that sort of thing," he said. "I think it would be better to finish the major issues like tax extension and the budget sooner than the last day."