State legislators ‘very close’ to income tax hike deal
BY DAVE MCKINNEY AND STEPHEN DI BENEDETTO Sun-Times staff reporters January 7, 2011 12:55PM
Senate President John Cullerton | Seth Perlman~AP
Updated: May 17, 2011 2:56PM
SPRINGFIELD — The size and duration of a potential state income tax hike remained under wraps Wednesday as some key black lawmakers threatened to vote against any revenue package that failed to pump new dollars into schools and property tax relief.
Tax-hike talks between Gov. Quinn, Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) dominated a busy legislative day when sweeping Medicaid reforms and plans for a new coal-burning plant on the South Side advanced.
Cullerton said the Democratic triumvirate was “very close” to settling on how much to increase the 3-percent income tax individuals pay and expressed hope a deal amongst themselves could be reached when talks resume today.
Neither Cullerton nor Madigan would divulge the scope of a tax-hike increase. But when asked about the prospects of a 2 ¼-percentage point increase some have associated with him, the speaker said, “We’ll know in the morning.”
But State Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago), who pushed a 2-percentage point jump in the individual income tax through the Senate in 2009, expressed opposition to any tax hike lacking new dollars for schools and property tax cuts.
“I cannot support anything that does not put money toward property tax relief and education. For eight years, I’ve carried a school funding bill, and its main essentials were money for education and money for property tax relief,” Meeks said.
“All of a sudden, the proposal we’re hearing about now does not have either of the two,” he said.
Cullerton seemed open to including some money for property tax relief in a tax hike. But he cast doubts that schools would get a major new windfall through a tax hike as they would have under Meeks’ House Bill 174, which stalled in Madigan’s chamber.
“I don’t know how we’re going to deal with that,” Cullerton said about the school-funding question. “We dealt with that in 174. This is a different bill.”
Meanwhile, the Senate overwhelmingly approved sweeping new changes to the state’s Medicaid program in a move backers said could save the state nearly $800 million over five years.
The plan, which passed 58-0 and with one voting present, now heads to the House. It would require Medicaid recipients for the first time to prove they are financially eligible for state-subsidized health care. They also would have to show they reside in Illinois.
The plan would impose a form of managed care by 2015 for half of the state’s 2.8 million Medicaid recipients and create income limits for the first time on the state’s All Kids health insurance program for children.
“It’s not a perfect bill,” said Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), co-chairwoman of the Senate’s Special Medicaid Reform Committee. “I think it is a very good start that takes a hard look at the Medicaid programs, while really keeping them on solid footing.”
On another front, the Senate gave final legislative approval to a plan for a $3 billion synthetic natural gas plant at an abandoned steel site at 11600 S. Burley Ave. The legislation, which passed 36-13, would require Illinois utilities to enter into long-term agreements to buy natural gas from the plant, which will be owned by New York-based Leucadia National Corp.