Quinn, Brady trade barbs in 1st major debate

Governor candidates illustrate clear differences on education, taxes and corruption

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The first major debate in the Illinois governor's race was a brutal verbal battle that at times sounded as though the candidates were trying out for a "Wizard of Oz" revival as they jousted over who's best to fix the state's shambolic finances.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn accused Republican challenger Bill Brady of not having "a heart" for suggested widespread budget cuts. And Brady implied that Quinn doesn't have a brain for following a road of "tax, spend and borrow."

Behind all of the heated rhetoric shone a light that illustrated clear differences between the two major-party governor candidates on education, taxes and corruption. The forum Wednesday at the private Union League Club of Chicago represented the first exchange open to reporters before the Nov. 2 election.

Taking turns putting each other on the defensive, Quinn charged that Brady's plan to cut a dime out of every dollar in state spending would be an "economic disaster" that would cause massive teacher layoffs.

Quinn, who has called for higher income taxes, estimated that Brady's proposed cuts would cost schools $1.2 billion and prompt increases in local property taxes to make up the difference.

Such solutions are based in a "pretend world" at a time when Illinois needs "common sense" rather than "nonsense," Quinn told the crowd of several hundred people.

Brady, a state senator from Bloomington, maintained that his education cuts would be less than $1 billion but would not give specifics, once again saying he needed more detailed audits before finalizing his plans.

Brady contended that local school officials are going to have to work harder to keep their costs down and said he opposed raising property taxes. Brady said that when the economy recovers, he wants to use growth in state tax receipts to help lower the burden on the school portion of local property taxes.

Quinn suggested that no one would buy a house from a homebuilder like Brady without seeing the blueprints first and said his opponent should be honest with voters. Though Quinn said he would not cut education funding, the governor has scaled back money for schools in his current budget.

Brady, who opposes Quinn's call for an income tax hike, supports eliminating the state inheritance tax and the state sales tax on gasoline, saying such moves will stop jobs from leaving Illinois and help the economy grow.

Brady said Quinn "just doesn't get" that Illinois cannot continue down the current road with the state reeling from a $13 billion deficit.

"As governor, I will not dig a deeper hole," Brady said.
Quinn called on those in the audience to consider his work to improve campaign finance laws, reform pensions and win passage of a major construction program. The governor said he should be judged by his record and suggested that voters refrain from embracing the platitudes of "fast-talking politicians."

But Quinn also sought to distance himself from ex- Gov. Rod Blagojevich, his two-time running mate. Quinn said he inherited an office from the impeached and ousted predecessor at a time when the nation's economy was in deep recession and the state's treasury was a mess. Illinois also suffered from an "integrity crisis" because its two previous governors were caught up in corruption scandals, Quinn said.

Brady sharpened his attempts to remind people of Quinn's ties to Blagojevich, saying more than once during the roiling debate that the state's problems are linked to the "Blagojevich-Quinn administration."

The debate excluded independent candidate Scott Lee Cohen, Libertarian hopeful Lex Green and Green Party contender Rich Whitney, who protested his exclusion along with about 20 supporters.

City and suburban voters will have a chance to see the governor candidates debate Oct. 17 at Elmhurst College and Oct. 20 on WLS-TV.