Wednesday, May 23, 2007

No dice for taxes, but good hand for gaming

Something may be brewing, but it’s not a tax increase. The House doesn’t have enough votes to support an increase in the income or sales tax, and that basically defeats the core of the HB 750 “tax swap” proposal, House Speaker Michael Madigan said in a rare Statehouse press conference Wednesday afternoon. He blamed the lack of support on Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s repeated threats to veto any income or sales tax increases.

Madigan said a survey of his 65 House Democrats (Madigan makes the 66th) revealed his caucus’ priorities remain education and a capital plan for road and school construction projects. Health care didn’t rank so well, he said. But to fund the caucus priorities, only 38 members would support some level of increase in the income tax. Only 10 would be OK with an expansion of the sales tax. There’s slightly more support for closing “loopholes” in the corporate income tax code and for expanding gaming in some way. But as Madigan said, “They’re still somewhat short of the 60 votes required to pass.”

If the speaker got his way, he would like to expand gaming — but he wouldn’t specify whether that would mean opening new casinos, allow existing casinos to add more employees or add slot machines at racetracks. He said he has spoken to House Minority Leader Tom Cross of Oswego about the possibility of gaming, and both “have an interest” in using any new gaming revenue to fund a capital plan. Madigan also said he met with Senate President Emil Jones Jr. to share the survey results with him, and he said their meeting was “fruitful.” Again, no details. Jones’ office said he has no comment.

In terms of the “alternative minimum tax” for businesses we talked about in Tuesday’s blog, Madigan said he was still attempting to fully understand how it would work. The sale of the Illinois Lottery got minimal interest in the caucus. He would not comment about the possibility of a “zero-growth” budget that doesn’t include any new revenue or new programs.

Madigan said it was unusual that the legislators differ this greatly from the priorities by the governor. And while he said he hopes the legislature can wrap up business by the May 31 constitutional deadline, he would oblige if the governor called a special session this summer. Madigan expects to meet with the governor Thursday. We’re still waiting for a response from the governor’s office.

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