Tuesday, March 20, 2007

House panel vote today on school tax swap plan?

The income tax increase is one step closer to passing.

House panel vote today on school tax swap plan?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

By Phil Kadner
Source: Daily Southtown
Searching for signs of life in the state Legislature can be like interpreting Da Vinci's "Last Supper."

Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, a master political artist, may be whispering important secrets about school funding into the ears of key committee members today.

Then again, he may merely be creating an illusion.

The Illinois House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations -- Elementary and Secondary Education
is expected to hold a public hearing today on House Bill 750.

This is a measure that would change the way public schools are funded by increasing the state income tax
from 3 percent to 5 percent while providing property tax relief to homeowners.

There are some other tax and tax relief components to the plan as well, but this stuff is confusing enough
without getting into all the details.

I mean, sponsors of this bill are calling it the Education and Fiscal Responsibility Act. If you like
that title, you can find the details for yourself online.

The important thing here, I think, is that Madigan is allowing the bill to be heard by a House committee.

Last year, the speaker refused to take the measure seriously.

Even while the measure, sponsored by state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago) was passing out of a Senate
committee, Madigan's staff was laughing at its chances of ever getting a hearing in the House.

Turns out they were right.

Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago), who had boasted of supporting school funding reform and a tax
hike, refused to let the measure onto the floor for a vote of the full Senate.

Well, things have changed in a year.

Now Jones is supporting Gov. Rod Blagojevich's school funding plan, which includes a new gross receipts tax
on businesses.

State Rep. David Miller (D-Calumet City), the sponsor of HB 750 in the House, is delighted Madigan has
decided to allow a public hearing on his bill.

Miller even expects the committee to vote on the measure today.

Since Democrats control the House and Madigan controls the Democrats, he likely wouldn't embarrass Miller by
allowing a vote that would result in the bill's defeat.

If there is a vote, it's because Madigan wants the bill pushed out of committee.

And the timing suggests Madigan wants an alternative to the governor's gross receipts tax.

"I don't think the speaker has any position on the gross receipts tax at this point," said Steve Brown,
Madigan's spokesman.

"He just doesn't know enough about it. All we have are speeches and press releases.

"The speaker needs to know what the plan would actually do, the details, before he takes a position."

But the speaker is allowing HB 750 to be called for a vote. So something in his position has changed since
last year.

"It's a new year," Brown said. "It's obviously time to discuss this issue now."

It also is possible that Madigan is seeking leverage in negotiations with Blagojevich and Jones.

Whatever the case, Madigan may now be the last and best hope for the so-called tax swap proposal.

Jones has said that as far as he's concerned the measure is in the Senate's "Hospice Committee.'

When I asked Meeks about that, he said, "I reminded the Senate president that hospice is not for the dead,
but for the living. My bill is still alive."

Looking at the political picture in Illinois is like studying one of Seurat's paintings at the Art

At a certain distance, the image has clarity.

But the closer you look, the more obvious it becomes that you're just looking at a jumble of dots on

The governor has vowed to veto any bill that includes a tax increase.

The governor has proposed a gross receipts tax that's going to result in higher prices for consumers, but he
claims that's a tax on big business, not consumers.

In the meantime, Mayor Richard Daley, who has said he wants the Legislature to pass school funding reform
this year, has yet to take a position on either of the bills.

He did ardently defend businessmen, ripping the governor for calling them "fat cats."

"You have to be optimistic," Miller said.

"House Bill 750 has been assigned to committee. I expect a committee vote (today).

"That's more than we've gotten in the past."

Will Madigan be there?

"I don't know, but his top legal guy will be running the meeting," Miller said. "That's significant."

You know, it must be because when I looked at the "Last Supper" again, there was Madigan's guy whispering in someone's ear.

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