The Quincy Herald-Whig

Quinn says tax hike plan honest, if not popular, and will preserve schools

Friday, August 20, 2010

Gov. Pat Quinn said he is showing the "guts and fortitude" to tell Illinoisans that it will take huge budget cuts and a tax increase to get the state budget back on track.

Quinn said during an exclusive phone interview Wednesday that his plan for an income tax hike will preserve schools that would be devastated by the cuts proposed by Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady. Quinn said Brady now admits that cutting $13 billion from the state budget would force increases in other taxes.

"Senator Brady when asked about this (Tuesday) -- about the property tax implications of this if the state cuts state aid for education -- said there would be a natural rise in property taxes. Well, that is the most unpopular tax in Illinois. I don't think that's the way to grow the Illinois economy," Quinn said.

In addition, Quinn said Brady's initial $1.26 billion cut to schools would eliminate 20,000 teaching positions, create classrooms with 30 students and force districts to raise property taxes. Yet that cut only represents part of $5 billion in cuts that Brady has outlined so far. The remaining $8 billion in cuts will not be outlined until after he is elected, Brady said Tuesday at the Illinois State Fair.

Patty Schuh, a spokesperson for Brady, said Quinn proposed $1 billion in cuts of his own in the state budget.

"Bill has been clear that government has to live within its means, but don't let (Quinn) get away with that," Schuh said. "He's talking about these cuts, too."

Speaking of his own plan, Quinn said he has made budget cuts of $3 billion, proposes $1.4 billion more in cuts and expects the income tax revenues to climb by $3 billion if lawmakers approve his plan to institute a 4 percent income tax, up from the current 3 percent rate.

The debate about how to balance the state budget is being considered by more than just the gubernatorial contenders. A poll by the Illinois Policy Institute shows that 49 percent of respondents say spending cuts are the preferred method of balancing the budget. Thirty-four percent prefer a tax increase, and 14 percent are not certain.

Quinn also announced Wednesday that Illinois has "created 60,000 jobs since the beginning of the year." The Illinois Department of Employment Security statistics include a new Ford Motor Co. plant that is adding 400 jobs, an expansion of Boeing in southern Illinois and construction jobs created by the state capital construction program approved last year.

"We're going to build or repair 5,000 miles of road and 660 bridges. It's also water, rail, transit systems, and public schools and projects for higher education," which in turn create jobs in the state, Quinn said.

"My opponent, Senator Brady, voted against the Illinois Jobs and Recovery Act."

Schuh said the 60,000 in new jobs are "not real sustainable jobs" and include temporary government jobs and census counters. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics tells a different story, with 200,000 fewer Illinois jobs in the past 18 months, she said.

Quinn touted his efforts to lead by example, cutting his own pay this year. He said Brady had not done the same.

The two candidates disagree on the state's minimum wage of $8.50 an hour. Brady said in late June that the state's minimum wage is $1 higher than the federal minimum wage and hurts businesses. Quinn said cutting the wage would cut $2,000 out of the incomes of low-income and unskilled workers. Schuh said Quinn is distorting Brady's suggestion that the state freeze its minimum wage until the federal wage level catches up.

A new survey by Public Policy Polling shows Brady with a 9 percent lead over Quinn among likely voters.

Quinn said those numbers demonstrate that he is being honest with voters, even when it is unpopular.

"I have the guts and the fortitude to tell the people what it will take" to get the budget back on track, Quinn said.

He pointed to two disgraced former governors, George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich, as examples of politicians who were not honest.

Quinn knows his income tax hike proposal is not popular, but he said it is preferable to cuts that will trigger a hike in property taxes for schools.

"We'll see on Election Day how that does, but I think the people would rather have the truth than somebody who just says we're going to raise your taxes after the election," Quinn said.