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Illinois Dems regroup on budget

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Illinois House Democrats scaled back their spending aspirations Monday, saying they're giving up on extending a temporary income tax increase and getting to work on a more modest budget with just five days left in the spring session.

House Speaker Michael Madigan emerged from a Memorial Day caucus meeting and told reporters that he was dropping the idea of making the 5 percent income tax permanent - and crafting a budget blueprint that holds the line on spending but is not the "doomsday" plan the House overwhelmingly rejected on Friday.

"We're going to call upon the agencies and those that receive appropriations from the Legislature to live within their means," said Madigan, a Chicago Democrat. "We understand the way this is. ... Let's take a good hard look at it and get the job done."

Gov. Pat Quinn, facing a tough re-election campaign against Winnetka Republican businessman Bruce Rauner, spent the spring session encouraging extension of the tax hike to avoid steep cuts. Spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said Monday night the Democratic governor is still trying to change minds and hearts on the tax in the session's final days.

"They should pass a responsible budget that properly funds schools, veterans and public safety services," Anderson said. "It's the right thing to do."

New estimates add $189 million in tax revenue growth to the bank account, Madigan said. Budget makers will look to borrowing built-up money in special funds and spending adjustments to develop a "middle-of-the-road" fiscal outline - between the doomsday scenario and one that increased spending by $3 billion with the continued escalated income tax.

Republican leaders took some credit for stopping the income tax extension, which was adopted four years ago as a temporary hike, but they remained wary of how the Democrats would put together the election year budget that begins July 1.

"This is not going to be the type of budget that a number of House Democrats feel warm about. But there is obviously going to be some pork put into it and that's how they get some votes at the end of the year," said House GOP Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs.

Republicans and Democrats agreed last winter on a projected revenue estimate of $34 billion. Quinn wanted the temporary income tax hike made permanent, instead of allowing it to roll back to 3.75 percent in January, resulting in a loss of $1.6 billion. The increase costs the typical taxpayer about $1,100 more this year.

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