WebExtra: A green light for school funding plan

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An Illinois House committee has passed a tax plan backed by school funding advocates, moving lawmakers closer to a standoff over how best to generate more state money for K-12 education and other priorities.

The proposal, known as House Bill 750, would raise taxes by more than $9 billion, with $2 billion earmarked for schools and the rest targeted for property tax relief and other spending needs, according to legislative backers.

House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) has not formally endorsed the bill. But Madigan controls the House agenda, and the committee’s approval indicates Madigan’s tacit support. Such support could potentially pit Madigan against Senate President Emil Jones (D-Chicago) and Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who back a plan to replace the corporate income tax with a gross receipts tax that the governor says would generate $1.5 billion for schools next year.

Just days ago, Jones reiterated that he stands firmly behind the governor’s plan, although in the past he supported the income and sales tax increases embodied in HB 750. On Sunday, he issued a statement saying he would not allow senators to vote on HB 750 even if the full House passes the plan.

“I want to clarify unequivocally that I will not call any bill for a vote that raises the income tax or sales tax on people,” Jones said. He called the governor’s plan “the fair way to make sure big business is paying its fair share.” The governor outlined the plan during his March 7 budget address.

Lawmakers are scheduled to adjourn on Friday and will continue debating the competing plans when they return to Springfield on April 17.

Rep. David Miller, sponsor of HB 750, and Sen. James Meeks, sponsor of the Senate version, say they are not discouraged by the rhetoric from Jones and Blagojevich.

Meeks argues Jones cannot muster enough support for the governor’s plan, and says HB 750 is the only proposal with traction.

“There will be no other plan at the end of the day that we’ll have to vote on in the Senate,” Meeks says.

Blagojevich has not offered a specific property tax relief plan. He and Jones argue an infusion of state cash to schools will pressure school districts to reduce – or at least not raise – their property tax levies.