Quinn presents first budget, focus turns to legislature

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

Calling Illinois' budget woes the state's "greatest crisis in modern times," Gov. Pat Quinn outlined a budget plan Wednesday, March 18, 2009, that attempts to solve those problems by asking something from just about everyone.

If Quinn gets everything he asked for Wednesday, cigarette smokers will pay more to indulge their habit, drivers will have to shell out more to use Illinois roads and many wage earners will give more of their paychecks to the state through an income tax increase.

With an $11.6 billion budget hole to fill, Quinn even is going after the powerful state employee unions and state workers' pensions. Quinn will have employees in departments he controls take four unpaid furlough days next year, saving millions in payroll costs. He also wants to require state workers to pay more for their health insurance and retirement programs.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees said Quinn is trying to balance the state's budget problems on the backs of rank-and-file workers. The combination of Quinn initiatives would cost an employee earning $35,000 a year more than $2,500, AFSCME said.

Spending in general has been out of control for years, Quinn said, including on a vast number of grant programs available to help the public. Quinn intends to cut $850 million from the budget, much of it by whacking those programs.

Quinn said he also will create a Taxpayer Action Board to go over state spending in detail and identify waste and inefficiency.

Quinn said the state income tax rate should be raised from three percent to as much as 4.5 percent. However, he wants to make that more palatable by increasing the personal exemption, which would allow taxpayers to shield some of their income from the state.

Quinn would increase the personal exemption, now $2,000 per person, to $6,000. For a family of four, the exemption would be $24,000.

"There is something wrong when Illinois gives more tax breaks to those who raise thoroughbred horses than to families raising children," Quinn said. "Working families cannot, and should not, shoulder the entire tax burden alone."

But they would still shoulder part of that bill. Quinn wants to raise cigarette taxes by $1 a pack. He would add $20 to the cost of license plate stickers, and the cost of a driver's license would double to $10.

Even entertainment would take a hit. Admission to the Illinois State Fair would increase by $2 per person, to $5 for adults and to $2 for children, who have been admitted free in recent years.

At the same time, Quinn wants to grant a 10-day state sales tax holiday in August when shoppers can buy back-to-school clothing and supplies for their children without paying a state sales tax. Illinois lawmakers have tried to pass a school sales tax holiday in the past without success.

Quinn pointedly dismissed the idea of expanding gambling or raising the gasoline tax in order to pay for a state construction program. Quinn wants lawmakers to approve such a program by April 3, although few believe that is possible.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he still thinks raising the gasoline tax is an option to pay for road projects and added that he is still evaluating whether the state needs an income tax increase. He said he first wants to see cuts made to the budget as Quinn promised, that bills are being paid on time and that a construction bill is under way.

However, Cullerton added, "With an $11 billion deficit, it's very likely that there would have to be an income tax increase."

Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont, said she thought Quinn sounded conciliatory, a welcome change after the confrontational Rod Blagojevich. However, she said, an income tax hike is "irresponsible and premature right now."