OAK PARK—State Sen. Don Harmon (39th) joined fellow Austin lawmaker, state Rep. Camille Lilly (78th), for a July 15, town hall in Oak Park, which was dominated by the state’s ongoing fiscal crisis.
The two lawmakers worked to allay constituency concerns surrounding the recently-adjourned spring legislative session, which included passage of Gov. Pat Quinn’s FY 2015 budget, which the governor himself described as “incomplete.” The other dominant topic at forum was the two recent state court rulings that may spell doom for the controversial pension reform legislation that the General Assembly passed last year.
Quinn’s $35.7 billion budget has been called politically-expedient by numerous lawmakers, the media, and many in the public. The temporary tax increase implemented in 2011 didn’t have enough votes to pass — deemed too politically risky for legislators currently up for reelection this year. Conversely, legislators overwhelmingly rejected the so-called “doomsday” budget, which would have imposed roughly $2 billion in cuts to make up for the loss of revenue resulting from the expiration of the temporary income tax hike.
While Harmon voted for all but one of the eight separate bills that comprise the FY15 budget, he has openly supported extending the temporary tax increase that his colleagues allowed to expire. Lilly, meanwhile, voted for all eight bills, but also supports an extension. Neither legislator is expected to face serious challenges this November.
“We did pass a balanced budget at the end of the year, which is nothing more than kicking the can down the road,” Harmon said, expressing some disappointment with fellow lawmakers.
With the 2011 temporary rate increase expired, the personal income tax will go down from 5 percent to 3.75 percent, while the corporate rate will go down from 7 percent to 5.25 next year on Jan. 1. With no new revenues and no spending cuts, experts estimate that the FY15 budget may add about $2 billion to a backlog of unpaid bills already totaling roughly $4 billion as of June 30, according to the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget.
Lawmakers expect to revisit the income tax rate issue after the November elections. But a lot may hinge on who’s in the governor’s office come next year, Harmon noted. “The gubernatorial election this year is going to be all about tax policy,” he said of the race between Quinn and his Republican challenger, Bruce Rauner.
The GOP candidate says he would gradually cut the income tax rate to 3 percent over four years, while Quinn has been vocal in his support of making the temporary 5-percent rate permanent.
Lilly, who sits on the House Appropriations-Human Services Committee, suggested that at least a portion of the Springfield’s cuts boiled down to revenue.
“There is not enough funding in health care, mental health and education in our state,” she said. “It burdens me to have had to go to Springfield the past four years and cut these line items. I had no idea I would have this responsibility.”
The decisions legislators make after November’s election will prove especially critical, given that last year’s pension reform law — which was supposed to shore up the state’s finances and improve its credit outlook — may likely be ruled unconstitutional, Harmon noted.
Michael Romain is founder and editor of TheVillageFreePress.org