Pressure grows to resolve Illinois state budget crisis

Chicago — With the clock ticking toward a “doomsday budget” that would devastate state services and cause massive layoffs, six thousand union members, seniors, children, social service agency workers and their clients flooded the Illinois statehouse in Springfield June 23 to demand action by state legislators.

The protest was so massive the statehouse was forced to close its doors. Demonstrators demanded a progressive tax increase to close the estimated $9.2 billion budget gap and avoid a 50% cut in vital social services affecting residents across the state. The deficit is the result of a $67 billion “lights on” budget compromise passed by the state assembly without enough revenues.

Gov. Pat Quinn has sent mixed signals whether or not he will veto the budget. “I’m not going to preside over a dismantling of that fundamental human safety net,” Quinn has said, who spoke at the June 23 rally. “I just can’t believe that legislators of both parties will accept that kind of dire outcome.” Ninety-seven percent of the state budget funds education and health care.

Quinn originally proposed a temporary tax hike on individuals and corporations. Individual income tax rates would increase from 3% to 4.5% and corporate taxes would increase from 4.8% to 7.2%.

Illinois has a constitutionally mandated flat tax. This has led to an under funding of state services for years. To get around this, Quinn proposed tripling the individual exemption from the income tax, to $6,000 per person. Quinn said it would cut taxes for about five million of 13 million residents, despite the individual tax increase.

A somewhat modified version of this approach introduced by Sen. James Meeks to increase the individual and corporate taxes from 3 to 5% and increase the earned income tax credit from $2,000 to $3,000 passed the Senate in May. However, the bill, which could serve as a blueprint, never made it onto the full House floor.

The state legislature with both houses controlled by Democrats is in a real fix. Because of divisions in Democratic ranks no budget was passed by a May 31 deadline. A super majority is now required to pass a budget giving Republicans greater influence over whatever legislation is adopted. They are demanding $800 million in cuts to social programs as a condition for any support.

The legislature voted to issue notes for refinancing of pension payments, which would free up savings to allocate for social programs. However the state would still be $1 billion short.

Pressure from the Republicans and corporations have forced some concessions by Quinn. He has called for 2,200 layoffs of state workers in addition to 12 furlough days a year. AFSCME which represents many state workers has rejected this idea. Additionally he is now proposing to reduce the corporate tax increase which would effectively continue the state's regressive tax structure.

In a telephone conference call with scores of advocates and service providers convened by Illinois Voices for Children, Policy Director Kelley Talbot called for stepping up the pressure on the Governor and legislators. She urged those present to demand Gov. Quinn veto the “doomsday budget,” keep legislators in Springfield until a balanced budget solution is reached including new revenue sources, and approve an interim state budget if needed to avoid the devastating cuts.

Protests and lobbying of legislators is continuing across the state. Vigils are being planned across the state for Monday, June 29, including one at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago from 8:30-10:30 pm. Another massive rally is being called for Tuesday, June 30 also at the Thompson Center at 11 am.

Voices for Illinois Children website has immediate action steps and information how your senator and representative voted:

updated Fri., June 26