* My Crain’s Chicago Business column…
Timid creatures by nature, state legislators often have to be cajoled, begged and even outright threatened to cast tough votes.
It took the Illinois General Assembly years to finally vote in December for a politically dangerous pension reform bill. The “temporary” income tax hike passed in 2011 only because some lame-duck legislators who had lost their elections (after campaigning against a tax hike) decided to play ball, and coincidentally got sweet state jobs.
That vote, which raised the personal income tax rate to 5 percent from 3 percent, was safely held weeks after an election. The hike is scheduled to expire Jan. 1, with the tax rate falling to 3.75 percent. But now, House Speaker Michael Madigan says he’d like to pass a bill to make the tax hike permanent by the end of the spring session, about five months before the Nov. 4 general election.
Making the tax hike permanent is probably very unpopular. A February survey found that 60 percent of Illinois residents want the tax hike to expire, while a mere 26.5 percent favor keeping it, according to the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.
Not to mention that the person taking the lead on making the tax hike permanent is Gov. Pat Quinn, who barely won his 2010 election.
Mr. Quinn forcefully argued during his annual budget address March 26 that keeping the tax hike in place would preserve much-needed state programs like education funding and prevent “draconian” budget cuts.
His Republican opponent has been ripping him all week. Bruce Rauner says Mr. Quinn in 2010 promised to oppose any tax increase above one percentage point and then signed a hike double that amount. Now he wants to make it permanent.
Mr. Quinn’s popularity among legislators is almost nonexistent; his political future is in doubt. So why follow him off a political cliff?
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