Rep. Bryant feels the heat for breaking ranks on tax vote; SIU president Dunn applauds ‘heroic stand’

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SPRINGFIELD — Rep. Terri Bryant said the decision to break ranks with Gov. Bruce Rauner and Republican Party leadership and vote in favor of a tax hike was not an easy one, but that she stands firm in her belief that she did what was best for her district, regardless of the consequences to her political career.

Bryant, of Murphysboro, was one of 15 GOP House members, most of them downstate lawmakers with universities in or near their districts, to vote for the $5 billion tax increase intended to end the budget impasse that entered a third year on July 1. 

“… if it means I don’t come back then I don’t come back, but I believe this was the right vote for our region,” she said of whether she’s concerned the vote could hurt her re-election chances.

Bryant has been feeling the heat from within her own party, but others have offered praise. Southern Illinois University System President Randy Dunn, according to a spokesman, called the vote by Bryant and the other 14 Republicans a “heroic stand” in the midst of a historic political standoff. Bryant said she’s also received words of encouragement and thanks from regional school superintendents, health care providers and others.  

Bryant said that the tax hike, while unpleasant, is coupled with cuts outlined in a separate spending plan the House passed. Revenue generated from the tax hike is intended to begin to dig Illinois out of its fiscal crisis, which includes more than $14 billion in late bills, and break the budget stalemate that threatens to dismantle public education and social services and cause irreparable harm to Southern Illinois’ fragile economy. 

Southern Illinois’ economy is more vulnerable to the effects of the ongoing impasse than other regions because large percentages of people are employed by the state — at prisons, mental health facilities, and public aid, driver services and other government offices — or by entities that are directly supported by state funding, including hospitals, social service agencies, universities and community colleges and K-12 schools, she said.

In addition to economic concerns, many others in the region rely on services that state funding supports, such as access to adequate health and dental care and disability services, she said. Bryant added that the budget effects on these services are more serious in this rural region because if one closes, people often do not have alternatives for care without driving long distances or out of state. 

“I don’t think people know how deep this issue is,” Bryant said, noting the looming concern that credit rating bureaus may soon downgrade the state’s creditworthiness to junk status, a move that would have widespread consequences. Of note, two credit rating agencies, Fitch Ratings and S&P Global, issued optimistic statements on Monday referencing Sunday’s bipartisan vote, even though Rauner has said he will veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

John Charles, SIU’s executive director for governmental and public affairs, said Dunn applauds Bryant and the other Republican legislators who helped the bill pass 72-45. The vote margin provided one more than the three-fifths majority needed for the measure to become effective immediately.

It’s also enough votes to override the veto that Rauner has promised if the bill reaches his desk, though there’s no guarantee that all who supported the bill the first time would vote the same on an override vote. The bill goes back to the Senate for consideration. 

Bryant and the others who supported the bill, “stood up not just for SIU, but the entire Southern Illinois region,” Charles added. 

Dunn also thanked Rep. Brandon Phelps, D-Harrisburg, who joined with the majority of Democrats voting in favor of Senate Bill 9. The bill would raise the personal income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, and the corporate income tax from 5.25 percent to 7 percent. 

The other two House members that round out the Southern Illinois delegation, Rep. Dave Severin, R-Marion, and Rep. Jerry Costello, II, D-Red Bud, voted against the revenue bill on Sunday. 

The personal income tax was recently 5 percent, but was lowered to 3.75 percent when a temporary 2011 tax increase backed by then-Gov. Pat Quinn sunset in 2015.  

Immediately after the vote, Rauner threatened to veto the bill if it lands on his desk, saying it is unacceptable that the 32 percent tax hike called for in the bill is yet unaccompanied by any of the pro-business reforms he’s been pushing since taking office. “Under Speaker Madigan’s direction, legislators chose to double down on higher taxes while protecting the special interests and refusing to reform the status quo,” Rauner said in a statement.

Bryant said that she has been informed that Republican Party operatives are already working to find a primary opponent to run against her in March.

She also said she has been called various unseemly names on social media and in person, and has had threats made against her life by people angry over her vote. 

Bryant said the governor’s office urged her to oppose the bill. But she stressed that the governor’s office — neither the governor nor his staff — has never threatened her with consequences for going against their wishes. Statements about recruiting a primary challenger have come from other party leaders and insiders, she said.

But she said that it’s her interpretation of the conversations with the governor’s office staff that possible ramifications are implied, though not implicitly stated, such as the governor potentially pulling support for an important project in her district. But Bryant said that even after weighing all of that, she is confident she did the right thing, as passage of a budget is the most pressing issue facing her district as she sees it. 

Bryant said the theory fueling much of the criticism — that the decision she and 14 of her GOP House colleagues made to vote in favor of the revenue bill substantially weakens the Republican Party’s ability to negotiate with House Speaker Mike Madigan for pro-business reforms — is unfounded.

Bryant said she supports worker’s compensation and some type of pension reform and believes that Sunday’s display of compromise may help nudge those conversations in the right direction. She noted that the budget is far from a done deal, and said Madigan and the controlling Democratic leadership still need to show good faith in dealing with rank-and-file minority party members if they are to expect their continued support to end the impasse. 

Bryant said she will continue to push for and support reforms. But she said the stalemate has gone on too long, and resulted in too many deals that have fallen apart in the 11th hour for her to feel comfortable continuing to hold out under the theory that the parties are “so close” when history has proven otherwise. 

“In the meantime, I’m not willing to see our university and the towns that surround it be totally destroyed while we still sit here saying, ‘We’re so close, we’re so close.’ We’ve been ‘so close’ for three years,” she said.

During brief remarks on the House floor Sunday evening in support of the bill, Bryant’s voice cracked and tears came to her eyes as she talked about why she was going to vote in favor of the bill, and the reasons that was so difficult for her to stomach. 

Bryant began her brief floor speech by outlining, and perhaps defending, her Republican credentials. She said she’s a proud member of the Republican right. 

“I love my guns. And I love coal,” Bryant said.

Bryant said she agrees with many of her Republican colleagues who argued that a tax increase will be painful for small businesses — and everyone else.

“I hate tax increases — hate them. And it will hurt to do this.” But she said it would hurt worse, in her estimation, not to do it given that Illinois cannot pay its bills. 

For example, Bryant said it’s also a poor business practice, and one that goes against conservative principles, to ask small businesses to work with the state and then allow them to fall into bankruptcy because Illinois cannot pay its bills for the work it requested.

She also noted the difficult financial situation facing SIU, and she closed her statements with a plea for her colleagues to help her ensure a strong future for the deeply rooted institution. 

“When this is done … I hope you will help me to bring my university back to the thriving place that it once was …” she said. 

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July 3, 2017 at 07:07PM

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Rep. Bryant feels the heat for breaking ranks on tax vote; SIU president Dunn applauds ‘heroic stand’

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