Quinn, legislative leaders spar at Business Day event

Ryan Keith

Gov. Pat Quinn and legislative leaders tried to stress cooperation and a new era of working together Wednesday in speeches at a Business Day event for manufacturers and retailers.

Instead, cracks in the unity stuck out.

House leaders showed they're at odds. The governor is standing firm on his budget and ethics plans, but other leaders are raising doubts. A long-stalled major construction program could go by the wayside again.

The discord sets up building intrigue as lawmakers try to address their major problems by May 31.

Quinn stressed he's not backing down from his budget plan, which calls for a sizeable income tax increase and cuts to some programs to help close an $11.6 billion budget.

"We have to pay the bills. This is reality. It's important that the members of the legislature understand that we are not a deadbeat state," Quinn said.

The governor says lawmakers who say a budget can be passed without a tax increase are living in a "dream world," although he said he's willing to work on a different formula than he proposed, trying to shield lower-income residents from paying more.

A compromise could include restructuring income tax breaks or providing property tax relief, he said.

"I want to be ambitious here," Quinn said. "Maybe we can roll up our sleeves and take on everything possible."

Quinn also said some ethics reforms proposed by the commission he formed to clean up state government should be dealt with more immediately than others. Quinn has urged legislators to approve all of the reforms, but some ideas have drawn heated opposition in the legislature as an overreaction.

Republican leaders say it's unfair to ask businesses and residents to pay higher income taxes without first cutting spending and streamlining state operations.

"We may not need to ask for so much ... if we need to ask at all," said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.

Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said he's working with Republicans to cut spending and produce savings but will ask them to support bringing in more money if a budget gap remains.

"When you look at the numbers, it looks like that is inevitable," Cullerton said.

Cullerton said he's open to discussing a temporary income tax increase.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said he doesn't know if an income tax increase or major construction program will get approved this spring. He's working with House Democrats to prioritize spending because of the state's severe budget problems.

"This is uncharted territory for everybody in the legislature," Madigan said.

Madigan then took a shot at his Republican counterpart, continuing a fight from the past few weeks. Republicans push for votes on topics ranging from special elections to ethics and Democrats running the chamber block those moves.

Madigan said he's not interested in meeting with House Republican Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego, because he doesn't attend meetings that aren't fruitful. That same reason was cited in Madigan's long-running dispute with ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

Madigan told the business groups he has no ill will for Cross but questions his work toward a construction program. Some Republican votes are needed for a construction program to get approved.

"My experience with Tom Cross has not been too good," Madigan said in his speech. "When it's time for the rubber to hit the road, he's not going to be there."

Cross said afterward that Madigan is looking for a scapegoat to blame while he blocks a construction deal. The Republican leader said he's working with other leaders and the governor on a way to pay for such a program.    

"When he (Madigan) doesn't want to do something himself, he looks for a villain or for somebody else to blame. History will show that we are for capital," Cross said.

Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 orryan.keith@sj-r.com.