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General Assembly Adjourns With Much Undone

Michael Madigan
Brian Mackey/WUIS
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The General Assembly finished its legislative session shortly after midnight Saturday, approving a billion-dollar road construction program.

Democrats started the session with an ambitious agenda: raise the minimum wage, boost college assistance for low-income students, maybe even change Illinois' flat tax into a graduated one. In the end, none of that happened.

"This has been a difficult session. Maybe a very difficult session," said Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, closing out the session Friday evening. "Over the last few years, nothing seems to be simple. Nothing seems to be easy. It's just one difficult, complicated issue after another."

This year's most complicated issue was what to do about the state's income tax — vote to make the 2011 tax hike permanent, or let rates drop at the end of the year as scheduled.

Gov. Pat Quinn, Madigan and other top Democrats called for making the current 5 percent tax rate permanent. The alternative, Quinn warned, was "savage" cuts.

But after beating that drum all spring, Democrats found a way to pass a budget that was none of the above. Republican Sen. Matt Murphy, of Palatine, asked about this during debate with Sen. Dan Kotowski, a Democrat from Park Ridge.

"There's no mass teacher layoffs. There's no tax increase," Murphy said.

"Sorry to disappoint you," Kotowski replied.

The budget uses borrowing and creative accounting to keep spending flat as compared to the prior year.

Democrats say they expect to have to revisit the tax issue later this year — after the November elections. They say this is the best they could do this spring when, as one put it, "everybody's against everything."

Brian Mackey formerly reported on state government and politics for NPR Illinois and a dozen other public radio stations across the state. Before that, he was A&E editor at The State Journal-Register and Statehouse bureau chief for the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin.
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