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Quinn urges Democrats to back tax hike

BY KERRY LESTERAND SARA BURNETTAssociated Press

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn tried Monday to persuade House Democrats to extend the state's temporary income tax increase to avoid what he says would be "savage" budget cuts, but emerged from a roughly three-hour meeting with lawmakers still well short of the votes he needs for approval.

"We're doing our best to get to that majority," the Chicago Democrat said following the closed-door meeting. "Obviously we have to keep on working till we get there."

With two weeks to go in the spring legislative session, Democrats - who hold 71 seats in the 118-member House - don't have the 60 votes needed to make the 2011 tax hike permanent, largely because of reluctance among lawmakers facing re-election this fall. All House Republicans oppose the increase.

House Speaker Michael Madigan said after Monday's meeting they remained "significantly away" from the 60 votes, with opposition from all sectors of his caucus.

He described Quinn as being "very animated" in some of the discussions, "because at times he wasn't hearing what he wanted to hear." Madigan said he also would keep working the vote.

"We're going to continue to talk to our members about the tax and the consequences of not adopting the governor's budget," the Chicago Democrat said.

The tax rate is scheduled to drop from 5 percent to 3.75 percent for individuals in January. That would reduce state revenue next year by about $1.8 billion.

Quinn, who's in the midst of his own re-election bid, has said the drop in revenue would prompt massive cuts to areas such as education and social services. He's pushing for a $38 billion budget that would increase funding for education and other areas but relies on lawmakers making the tax increase permanent.

The measure is expected to have enough votes to pass in the Senate, where Democrats also have a supermajority.

Democratic Rep. Barbara Flynn Currie of Chicago filed legislation earlier Monday to extend the tax increase. Madigan also filed a measure to give homeowners a $500 property tax refund. Passing that bill could help Quinn and other Democrats politically, and make voting for the income tax increase a little easier. Under the proposal, refunds could be issued as soon as September, weeks before the November election.

The House adopted a $37 billion budget last week that begins July 1, but the plan counts on revenue from the tax increase.

Quinn's Republican opponent, businessman Bruce Rauner, said the budget process demonstrated a "lack of leadership." Rauner opposes the tax increase but hasn't outlined how he would balance a budget without it.

Democratic Rep. Christian Mitchell of Chicago supports keeping the increase in place, calling it "the best of bad options."

Whether the tax increase is passed or fails, Mitchell said, "this is going to get draped around the neck of the Democratic caucus."

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