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Illinois Legislature Approves Tax Hike

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Democratic Illinois lawmakers beat a looming deadline and approved a 66 percent income-tax increase in a desperate bid to end the state’s crippling budget crisis.

Legislative leaders rushed early Wednesday to pass the politically risky plan before a new General Assembly was sworn in at noon, taking a slice out of the Democratic majority and removing lame-duck lawmakers willing to support the tax before leaving office.

The increase now goes to Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who supports the plan to temporarily raise the personal tax rate to 5 percent, a two-thirds increase from the current 3 percent rate. Corporate taxes also would climb as part of the effort to close a budget hole that could hit $15 billion this year.

“Governor Quinn today thanks the Illinois General Assembly for taking strong action to confront our fiscal crisis and provide the revenue and reforms needed to stabilize the budget, pay our bills and jumpstart Illinois’ economy,” a statement from his office said.

Quinn’s office said the higher taxes will generate about $6.8 billion a year – a major increase by any measure. In percentage terms, 66 percent might be the biggest increase any state has adopted while grappling with recent economic woes. It will be coupled with strict 2 percent limits on spending growth.

If officials spend above those limits, the tax increase will automatically be canceled. The plan’s supporters warned that rising pension and health care costs probably will eat up all the spending allowed by the caps, forcing cuts in other areas of government.

Other pieces of the budget plan failed. Lawmakers rejected a $1-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes, which would have provided money for schools. They also blocked a plan to borrow $8.7 billion to pay off overdue bills, which means long-suffering businesses and social-service agencies won’t get their money anytime soon.

House Speaker Michael Madigan, sounding weary, said Republicans should have supported some parts of the plan instead of voting against everything.

“They’re on the sidelines. They don’t want to get on the field of play,” the Chicago Democrat said. “I’m happy that the day has ended.”

But Republicans noted they were not included in negotiations. They also fundamentally reject the idea of raising taxes after years of spending growth.

“We’re saying to the people of Illinois, ‘For eight years we’ve overspent, now we’re going to make it your problem,”’ said Rep. Roger Eddy. “We’re making up for our mistakes on your back.”

The increase means an Illinois resident who now owes $1,000 in state income taxes will pay $1,666 at the new rate. After four years, the rate drops to 4 percent and that same taxpayer will then owe $1,333.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press

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