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Income tax hike deal reached; Death penalty abolition advances

Gov. PQuinn

Gov. Pat Quinn

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Updated: May 12, 2011 3:00PM

SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Quinn struck a deal with the Legislature’s ruling Democrats Thursday to raise the state income tax by 75 percent and boost the tax on cigarettes by $1 a pack — while a push to abolish the death penalty scored a historic legislative victory.

The cornerstone of a dramatic day, the revenue agreement reached by Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) would impose a temporary, four-year increase in the state tax on workers’ paychecks from 3 percent to 5 ¼-percent.

The money from that, the cigarette tax hike and a corresponding increase in the corporate income tax from 4.8 percent to 8.4 percent would erase the state’s expected $15 billion deficit.

It also would generate a $700 million-plus windfall for schools and fund annual $325 rebate checks to property owners beginning in 2011, two key concessions fought for by leading black lawmakers, including Rep. William Davis (D-Homewood).

“I think it’s the right time to do it because we are in desperate need of paying our bills,” Cullerton told reporters. “We’d have all our bills (paid) – all those people owed money -- $8 billion will go back into the economy. People will be paid on time. Our credit rating will be dramatically improved. We will then have a balanced budget with virtually no growth for the next four years,” he said.

The deal, which was first disclosed Thursday by the Chicago Sun-Times, would limit future growth of state government during the next three years by imposing a moratorium on new programs and a 1-percent cap on new spending in each of those years, Cullerton said.

The package will be heard first in the House. The measure could surface as soon as Friday and must pass both legislative chambers by Wednesday when the lame-duck session ends.

“The governor is working on a plan with the Senate president and the speaker of the House to build a framework that will allow the state to pay its bills, stabilize the budget and strengthen the Illinois economy,” Quinn spokeswoman Ashley Cross said.

Republicans have vowed to oppose the plan and, earlier, needled Quinn for misleading voters in his successful gubernatorial campaign when he advocated a smaller, 1-percentage point increase in the individual income tax.

“I often said during the election that I gave Gov. Quinn credit for running on what he believes in, which is a 1-percent increase. This is more than double that,” said Sen. Christine Radogno (R-Lemont). “To me, that’s kind of a bait and switch. And I think it’s wrong.”

Meanwhile, on the day’s other major issue, the House took two tries and ultimately passed an abolition of the death penalty, marking the first time either the House or Senate moved to end executions since the death penalty was re-imposed in 1977.

The measure, which passed 60-54 and now moves to the Senate, sparked an emotional debate that weighed the rights of the 20 wrongly convicted, exonerated Death Row inmates against the victims of horrific crimes.

“We’ve seen this Legislature and the state struggle for the right answers for a long time now. We’ve paid dearly for it. We’re at a cross roads now and ready to change it,” said Rep. Karen Yarbrough (D-Maywood), the bill’s chief House sponsor.

One of the “yes” votes was Rep. Susana Mendoza (D-Chicago), a past advocate for death-penalty expansion who reversed her position after meeting with some exonerated ex-death row inmates.

“I have come to realize in order to ensure justice is served in death to an evil cancer in society, we must accept the possibility of executing an innocent person. I’m not OK with that, and none of us should be OK with that,” said Mendoza, who is running for city clerk.

But Rep. Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs), a former prosecutor, predicted there would be a public outcry the next time a horrific crime is committed and prosecutors no longer have the ability to pursue a death sentence.

“It’s important we have that option available not only for law enforcement but also for the families,” he said.

Late Thursday, Cullerton declined to predict whether the Senate would pass the abolition but said he personally intended to vote for it. Its lead Senate sponsor, Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago), has said he believes he can pass it.

Contributing: Stephen Di Benedetto

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