Righter, Phillips offer more insight into their budget votes

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MATTOON — Two local Republican state lawmakers saw the recent series of budget votes as a necessary evil, according to their comments made Wednesday.

In a discussion with constituents and the JG-TC Editorial Board, Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, and Reggie Phillips, R-Charleston, stood behind their votes that garnered negative responses among residents in their districts.

For Righter, the vote on the budget package July 4 was easily the “toughest” in his career.

“I’ve cast thousands of votes in my time in the General Assembly and there was never one that I didn’t want to cast more than I did on the Fourth of July,” Righter said.

Righter, who was a part of the negotiation talks leading up to the budget pact and vote, did not see an end to the budget impasse that had plagued the state for two years. And come that July 4 vote, Righter became the only Republican state senator to vote “yes” on the $36 billion budget package that included an unpopular tax hike.

According to the Associated Press, the revenue-generating measure that state lawmakers voted on raised the income tax rate by 32 percent. The approved measure increased the personal income tax rate from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent. Corporations will pay 7 percent instead of 5.25 percent.

“No one wants to pay more taxes,” Righter said. “And I’ll guarantee you: The person for whom that is more intense is the person who casts the vote to make people pay more taxes and gets to pay them as well.”

Despite his reluctant vote, Righter defended his choice, saying it was better for the district than the alternative.

“After two plus years, I felt like the state and my district had run out of time,” Righter said.

He said the $36.3 billion balanced budget was better than the estimated $40 billion the state would have had to pay through court orders and consent decrees, which until recently had become the appropriating process over these past two years.

The spending would have just been on autopilot as state lawmakers continued to toil away at a compromise between Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Democratic-led state legislature, Righter said.

The state senator noted that the budget is less spending than the $37.1 billion budget the Republican governor proposed. Rauner and other Republican state lawmakers continue to be staunch critics of the approved budget.

Righter said his vote came down to getting a budget, having it balanced and tackling the backlog of bills that have reached $15 billion.

Righter said that based on revenue projections, some of which come out of the governor’s office, the budget is balanced.

“If the executive branch doesn’t manage it, you will end up with a deficit,” Righter noted.

Righter said higher education institutions in his district also played a role in his vote.

Phillips’ thought process mirrored that of Righter’s when voting “yes” on the bills and the preceding overrides of Rauner’s vetoes. Phillips was one of 10 Republicans in the House to do so.

Phillips said that a tax hike was coming no matter what, looking at options that were available. The only difference would be the how and the why, Phillips said.

Negotiations on reforms that could be tied to the bill were stalling. They stopped in June, he said. And, for him, he didn’t see an end to the stalemate outside of the move he and other lawmakers made at the start of July.

Leading up to the budget vote, Phillips said he received numerous calls from business owners stressing the impact that declining enrollment at Eastern Illinois University was having on their businesses across his district.

Phillips said he was in support of many of Rauner’s reforms, but it was time to end the stalemate in Springfield.

“I believe in the governor, but people have lost their jobs,” Phillips said.

So, Phillips told the Republican leaders that he was voting “yes” on the package and when the bills came up for a vote, he pressed his button, went to his office to close up, and left for the day.

“I wasn’t happy I was put in that position,” he said. “We should have negotiated (by then).

“I did not like to vote ‘yes,’” he added.

Both of the local lawmakers said they did not see letting the state “burn” as a viable option.

“There are some people in this government and around this government who just think this should be a forest fire exercise,” Righter said. “Just let ‘er burn in hopes that something new and refreshing and wonderful will grow up. I am not sure I ascribe to that.”

Since the budget vote, Phillips and Righter have received hundreds of responses about their decisions — many, but not all, negative and some that leaned into threatening territory.

Phillips said he received threats from people saying they would “hang him up from the courthouse lawn.” But Phillips said, for him, the response has been largely positive, though. Righter said most comments he’s getting are negative, but he understands people’s frustration.

While appropriations have been set, the budget battle is not entirely over. State lawmakers are now coming to a standstill on an evidence-based K-12 funding formula.

Both local lawmakers remain optimistic for movement on reforms. Righter said the reforms Republicans have been calling for are still moving forward.

“I trust that the Democrats know they need reforms,” Phillips said.

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July 20, 2017 at 08:12PM

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Righter, Phillips offer more insight into their budget votes

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