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Miller: Quinn and company in cahoots over budget

Published: Monday, March 31, 2014 9:27 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 31, 2014 9:33 p.m. CDT

It turns out that the governor and the two Democratic legislative leaders met privately for at least several days to negotiate details of Gov. Pat Quinn’s budget address.

The highly unusual move means that most, if not all aspects of Quinn’s budget proposals last week already have been agreed to by the Democrats who run the Illinois Statehouse.

The governor proposed eliminating the state’s property tax credit, which is currently worth 5 percent of property taxes paid, and replacing it with an automatic $500 tax refund.

The Senate Republicans have claimed that the Democrats were in cahoots this entire spring legislative session to make it appear the budgetary outlook was so bad that the tax hike absolutely had to be made permanent.

The Democrats apparently have been working closely together for the first time in anyone’s memory. Budget addresses are rarely, if ever, negotiated this much in advance of the actual speech.

But Quinn also announced a five-year, $1.5 billion investment into his “Birth to Five” initiative, which he has claimed would focus on prenatal care, access to early learning opportunities and parental support.

The Ounce of Prevention Fund lavished praise on Quinn’s proposal after the speech, and warned of the “potentially devastating cuts that would be necessary without adequate revenue,” which seemed like an all but endorsement of the governor’s proposal to keep income taxes at their current levels.

Bruce Rauner’s wife Diana is the Ounce of Prevention Fund’s president. So, while Rauner blasted the governor’s budget address as yet another “broken promise” to Illinoisans and said Quinn was “doubling down on his failed policies” by proposing to keep the tax hike permanent and asserted that he could “balance the budget without more tax increases,” Mrs. Rauner’s highly respected organization was saying just the opposite, that the budget proposal was a “vital investment in the state’s future at a critical juncture.”

House Speaker Michael Madigan warned his House Democrats during a closed-door caucus meeting to “keep their powder dry” about the governor’s proposals. Madigan doesn’t want his members getting too far ahead of the game and making statements that they might have to take back when the velvet hammer comes down on their heads later in the session.

• Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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