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Quinn tax hike in trouble

SPRINGFIELD — As the Illinois House returns to the Capitol Sunday, the income tax-hike agreement Gov. Quinn struck with the Legislature’s ruling Democrats faces serious questions with time running out.

Top allies to House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said Friday the “framework” that Quinn, Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) agreed upon for raising the individual income tax from 3 percent to 5¼ percent needs work.

“I don’t see there are enough votes,” said Rep. Frank Mautino (D-Spring Valley), Madigan’s budget point man.

The 75 percent tax hike and an accompanying $1-a-pack increase in the state cigarette tax would raise more than $8 billion annually, provide schools with a $700 million annual windfall and give property owners rebate checks of $325 beginning in 2011.

The plan also would pay a multibillion-dollar backlog of state bills and erase the state’s gargantuan budget deficit through a $14 billion-plus borrowing plan.

Quinn has been silent about the revenue package all week but expressed optimism to the Sun-Times Friday that a tax deal would be in place before the lame-duck legislative session ends at noon Wednesday.

“There’s always demands and challenges, but we’ll get it done,” said the governor, who was preparing to embark upon a weekend of activities leading up to his Monday inauguration.

Borrowing requires a super-majority vote of the House and Senate, meaning at least one Republican vote is necessary in the House to pass the borrowing Quinn is contemplating. That’s a tall order given that House Republicans have vowed to fight borrowing on such a massive scale with so many unanswered questions.

On Friday, an aide to House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) had not been shown details of the revenue package beyond media reports and had no reason to think Republicans would be supportive.

“We just go to our caucus with your Sun-Times story, read it to them and say would you vote for this? That’s not how it works,” Cross spokeswoman Sara Wojcicki said.

It was not entirely clear what changes House Democrats might be preparing for the package. Mautino said if an all-Democratic roll call has to be assembled, the cigarette tax hike could be one casualty and the borrowing plan might have to be restructured. Conflicts also exist between the House and Senate over whether schools should get new money or all new state spending should be scratched.

Despite the uncertainty, the No. 2 House Democrat, Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, joined Mautino in holding out hope a tax deal could wind its way through the Legislature to Quinn before Wednesday because Illinois’ ruinous fiscal condition demands immediate attention.

“I’d say it’s pretty likely,” she said of the package’s chances of eventually passing. “But I’m not a betting woman, so I won’t assign a percentage. If you look at the size of the disaster, we don’t have any choice.”

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