Illinois lawmakers thought their budget nightmare would end with a Fourth of July vote for a $36 billion spending plan. But for many of them, a different ordeal was about to unfold.
Their votes this week to approve a new budget — after a fiscal stalemate that made the state a national disgrace for the past two years — have sparked a firestorm of vitriol, with so many Republican legislators reporting receiving threatening communications that the GOP state House leader’s office sent its lawmakers a memo Wednesday on how to protect themselves.
One legislator was called a “f—-ing animal.” Another was told he’d be “hanging from a tree.”
“You are selling your soul to the devil,” said a message to GOP House floor Leader Steven Andersson, who reported receiving a steady flow of abusive text messages and calls — including a death threat. “I’m coming for you,” it said. Now the Illinois State Police are investigating.
The rage unleashed by the vote serves as a reminder of the combustibility of the current political atmosphere, one where a tax increase to avoid a fiscal catastrophe — combined with the perception of partisan betrayal — could set off such an explosive response.
Andersson is one of 15 Republican lawmakers who crossed over and voted for a Democratic budget that raises income taxes as part of a package aimed at ending the two-year budget impasse.
As the state entered its third fiscal year without a budget on July 1, lawmakers faced tremendous pressure to avoid a junk rating downgrade after two of the state’s most powerful politicians — Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic state House Speaker Michael Madigan — engaged in a protracted political war that created unprecedented gridlock.
Against that highly-charged and highly-partisan backdrop lawmakers cast votes for a controversial package that includes a 32 percent increase (from 3.75 to 4.95) of the state income tax.
It didn’t take long for the anger to bubble over into sputtering, unfiltered rage.