- Associated Press - Sunday, May 28, 2017

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Illinois House Democrats began debating tax increases Sunday as an attempt to break a two-year budget deadlock, and while their top budget negotiator wouldn’t endorse a $5.4 billion package of tax hikes, he warned of “devastating cuts” if support falters.

Lawmakers began review of a $37.3 billion spending outline the Senate approved last week. It includes a 32 percent increase in the personal income tax rate and a broadened sales tax along with $3 billion in spending reductions.

Majority Democrats were meeting Sunday evening behind closed doors to hear Chicago Democratic Rep. Greg Harris’ take. The budget point-man wouldn’t say where he stands on the tax question but previewed a presentation that hinted lawmakers have no choice.

Colleagues would hear “what the implications are if we do come up $2 billion or $3 billion short in revenue,” Harris said. “If those numbers come down, you’re going to see devastating cuts to higher education, to public schools and to human services.”

Illinois has been without an annual budget since summer 2015, the longest of any state in modern times. GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner has insisted on changes to boost commerce and to freeze property tax bills in exchange for spending authority and the likely tax increases necessary to dig the state out.

The stalemate has decimated social service programs, left colleges and universities drawing down reserves, and forced state agencies to continue begging vendors for more time with overdue bills hitting $14.5 billion at week’s end. The state will end its fiscal year June 30 with a deficit of nearly $6 billion.

The consequences were again hammered home earlier Sunday in testimony before the House General Services Appropriations Committee. Kevin Turner, director of information technology for the Illinois State Board of Elections, said the agency does not have enough computers to quickly dispatch with candidates filing nominating petitions late this fall for the 2018 election. There’s been no money for replacing obsolete work stations and without $25,000 for new ones, lines will be long, Turner said.

“We may be doing it in the parking lot using abacuses,” Turner joked.

Turner added that the board, which suffered a breach of election data by a foreign hacker last summer, is two years behind on paying as much as $9,000 for online antivirus protection and if it doesn’t catch up this fall, “we would have to unplug our agency from the internet.”

The House GOP picked up where their Senate counterparts left off, claiming tax-and-spend Democrats have no interest in slowing government growth. House Democrats used a procedural move to take control of the income-tax increase legislation from Rep. Jeanne Ives. The Wheaton Republican filed paperwork months ago to ensure her sponsorship of any tax increase legislation coming to the House.

“Illinoisans do not want a massive tax increase,” Ives said on the floor. “For you to pull this bill from me simply shows the Democrats are not interested in bipartisan support for what we should be doing with taxes.”


The bill are SB6 and SB9


Contact Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor . His work can be found at https://apnews.com/search/john%20o’connor

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