Miller: Some House members claim Quinn reneged on closings deal
By Rich Miller www.thecapitolfaxblog.com June 24, 2012 4:50PM
Updated: July 26, 2012 6:14AM
Several downstate Illinois legislators were furious last week that Gov. Pat Quinn
decided to go ahead and close some state facilities, including prisons, in their districts.
They weren’t just upset about the lost jobs, however. Some also claim Quinn broke an agreement regarding the closings.
“If the governor proceeds with this, he has gone back on his word,” Rep. Mike Bost (R-Murphysboro) told a crowd gathered to protest the planned closures last week.
Bost and others indicated that the deal was made over revenue issues but didn’t get more specific. Bost did not return a phone call, but he was almost surely referring to the cigarette tax increase.
“We believe the governor’s office was working members for votes on certain legislative initiatives in exchange for keeping facilities open,” said Sara Wojcicki Jimenez, spokeswoman for House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego).
She said there was no deal discussed among the four legislative leaders and the governor, but she did say when pressed that the cigarette tax hike was among those “legislative initiatives.”
Bost and several other House Republicans voted for the $1-per-pack tax hike, which received the bare minimum majority of 60 votes in that chamber. The roll call was carefully structured in a bipartisan manner so the bill could pass without forcing politically endangered members to vote in favor of it.
No Senate Republicans voted for the cigarette tax increase, but the Senate Democrats have repeatedly passed cigarette tax hikes on their own in the past. The House Democrats couldn’t (or wouldn’t) muster enough votes to do so.
“False,” replied Kelly Kraft, a top official with the governor’s budget office, when told of the supposed dealings between Quinn and some GOP House members.
There were a ton of rumors floating around during the last few days of the spring session on what exactly was going on with the facility closures. One downstate Democrat, who represents a district where a prison was slated for closing, insisted that a Quinn administration official had testified in a House committee meeting toward the end of the session that if the General Assembly put money back in the budget to keep the targeted facilities open the governor would probably do so.
But Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago), who chairs the House Appropriations Public Safety Committee, and the committee’s minority spokesman, Rep. David Reis (R-Ste. Marie), both said no such claim was ever made by the governor’s office at any of their hearings.
Instead, the Quinn official merely said when pressed on the budget question that maybe the administration would consider keeping the facilities open but made clear that she could not speak for the governor, according to Arroyo and Reis.
And it turns out the cigarette tax trade rumors could be false as well.
“To my knowledge there never was a deal,” said Rep. Jim Watson (R-Jacksonville).
Watson was one of the House Republicans who voted for the cigarette tax hike and has a facility in his district that’s slated for closure in August.
Apparently, members on both sides of the aisle attempted to push their leaders to force some sort of a quid pro quo with Quinn on the cigarette tax hike and the facility closings. But that never happened.
Quinn was obviously making deals near the end of the session, so an eagerness to cut a deal on the cigarette tax increase was understandable at the time.
What appears to have happened on the cigarette tax issue was that legislators voted for the higher tax with the hope that it would persuade Quinn to reconsider closing the detention and mental health centers.
Quinn apparently ignored the wishes of the House members who stuck out their necks for him. At the Statehouse, that’s almost as bad as breaking a deal with them.
They probably won’t be helping out the governor any time soon.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com