In Springfield yesterday, House Speaker Michael Madigan characterized House and Senate Republicans "do-nothing dropouts" for not agreeing to pass an income tax increase. Madigan and his allies in Springfield need to stop whining about the Republicans when they have the votes to pass a sustainable budget on their own.
The Illinois House is currently back in in Springfield to begin its spring session. In preparation, Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) took some time yesterday to talk with reporters about the upcoming budget negotiations. The Illinois Statehouse News caught video of the exchange, which is worth watching it in full. Not surprisingly, Madigan immediately shifted the focus to House and Senate Republicans, suggesting that any budget fix requires action from the minority, whom he characterized as "do-nothing dropouts" and "non-participating do-nothings." When asked by a reporter how his caucus would pass a "revenue increase" if the GOP stands firm in its opposition to an income tax hike, the speaker interrupted her. "Stop right there. Delete that word 'revenue increase.' Delete that." Watch his full, frustrating response:
My point is that Illinois has the worst budget crisis in the history of the state and I think that all members of the legislature ought to come together and participate in solving the problem. We ought not to have non-participating groups, do-nothing groups. And that's what they've been. I think they ought to come to the table and participate in solving the problem. That doesn't mean that it has to be a tax increase, but in the end, there will be a budget. In the end, there will be authority to spend money. The question is, how do you do it? Is there any kind of relief in the short-term that can be made part of the budget?
Moreover, notice how Madigan attempts to cast this as a matter of a principle: In this time of crisis, it's important that House "come together," he says. But don't be fooled. The speaker just doesn't want his Democratic majority to wear the jacket for an income tax increase.
What Madigan just flatly refuses to acknowledge is that Democrats could take the first major step toward fixing the state's finances all on their own. More specifically, they could bring to the floor some version of HB 174, which passed out of both the Illinois Senate and a House committee last May. In its basic form, this legislation brings in new revenue via an income tax hike while offsetting the burden on low-income taxpayers by boosting the state property tax credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Nine Democrats could vote against the bill and the caucus would still have enough votes to approve the measure by simple majority.
In short, Speaker Madigan and his allies in Springfield need to stop whining about the Republicans when they have the votes to pass a sustainable budget on their own. No one is going to buy the idea that the GOP is responsible for the inaction in Springfield. Such an argument makes the speaker -- and the party as a whole -- look dysfunctional and cowardly. Come November, that perception could hurt Madigan's precious majority more than an income tax increase.