Northwest Herald

Getting state out of tailspin

Monday, October 18, 2010

HELP WANTED: Jaded, angry electorate looking for next governor of Illinois.

Optimal candidates should have a realistic plan for bringing jobs back to the state, closing a $13 billion budget deficit and fixing an $80 billion pension liability. Lack of corruption a plus, as is the desire to not become our eighth indicted chief executive. Apply Nov. 2.

Five applicants who applied for the difficult job of fixing a broken Illinois will appear on the ballot.

They include Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn, who was lieutenant governor until former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office last year. Seeking to return the Executive Mansion to GOP control is State Sen. Bill Brady, of Bloomington, whose state political career started in 1993 with his election to the House.

Running again is Green Party candidate Rich Whitney, a Carbondale civil rights lawyer who earned 10 percent of the vote running in 2006 against the unpopular choices of Blagojevich and Republican former treasurer Judy Baar Topinka. Representing the Libertarian Party of Illinois is Lex Green, who like Brady hails from Bloomington.

And running as an independent is Chicago pawnbroker Scott Lee Cohen, who won a surprise victory in the February Democratic primary to be Quinn’s lieutenant governor running mate. He promptly stepped down under pressure from party leaders following news reports of a messy divorce and 2005 arrest for allegedly assaulting a former girlfriend, who had pleaded guilty to an unrelated prostitution charge.

Quinn, Brady and Whitney responded to the Northwest Herald’s questionnaire as to how they planned to address the many problems facing Illinois and its residents. The candidates’ full questionnaire answers can be found online at NWHerald.com/election.

Taxes

The candidates’ position on taxes are clear: Quinn and Whitney support raising them, while Brady does not.

Quinn proposes raising the income tax from 3 to 4 percent – or depending on how one looks at it, raising people’s income taxes by 33 percent. He called his proposal a “one percent surcharge for education.”

“The additional state aid generated by the one-percent surcharge would also enable local government to ease the property tax burden on homeowners throughout the state and ameliorate what is a very regressive tax on those living on fixed incomes,” Quinn said.

Whitney supports increasing the state income tax to 5 percent for individuals and raising the corporate rate to 8 percent, but only for the top 40 percent of wage earners. He also supports imposing the state sales tax on services, and placing a “minuscule” tax on futures, options and derivatives.

“The issue is not whether we need an income tax increase,” Whitney said. “The issue is how we make our tax system fairer. The fundamental cause of our state deficit is our regressive tax system, which imposes the largest share of the tax burden on those least able to pay.”

Brady calls any kind of tax increase as the state struggles to recover its economy the wrong answer. He said the state needs new revenue from more jobs and investment in Illinois, not more taxes.

“Raising taxes would further drive private-sector jobs and citizens to other states, thus further eroding our tax base,” Brady said.

Budget and pensions

Brady said the state needs to undergo a top-to-bottom analysis of where money is going to determine where to cut. He also promised for the state to employ zero-based budgeting, which would mean that all state agency budgets each year start from zero and have to annually justify all expenses.

If elected, Brady said he aims to roll back the present budget by at least 10 percent.

“We must restore fiscal discipline and stop spending money we don’t have, and conduct a comprehensive audit to eliminate fraud, abuse and mismanagement. There’s not one area of the budget that can’t be deconstructed to save money,” Brady said.

Quinn said he has cut $3 billion from the state budget over his past two years as governor, about $1 billion of the cuts from the present 2011 fiscal year. They include more than half a billion dollars in cuts to the Department of Human Services, and $216 million from the Department of Healthcare and Family Services.

“Voters deserve a governor who is willing to make tough decisions and reveal a budget plan before an election, and not afterward,” Quinn said.

Whitney said he would create a citizens’ budget review commission, which would be empowered to subpoena witnesses and documents, to conduct a forensic audit of state government. He agreed that significant cuts needed to be made, but said the state should cut waste and pork and not services.

The three candidates differed on the extent of needed pension reform. Quinn said the new “two-tiered” system signed into law would save $200 billion through 2045. Brady said the state needed to explore moving new employees to a defined employee contribution system, such as 401(k)s or a program similar to state universities.

Whitney, on the other hand, said the reforms went too far and that state workers get modest pensions compared to other states. The real problem, he said, was that state workers were being blamed because the Democrats and Republicans deliberately under-funded the system.

“I will fight to maintain existing pension standards and restore adequate and responsible funding to the system, by solving the budget deficit problem and getting the state back on the ‘ramp’ to gradually restore stability to the system,” Whitney said.

Jobs

Both Brady and Quinn said tax credits for employers held the promise to lower the state’s 10 percent unemployment rate.

Quinn said the new $2,500 small business tax credit for each new job created is expected to create $20,000 jobs, while the 2009 Illinois Jobs Now capital plan is expected to create 400,000 jobs over six years.

Brady said he would up the business tax credit to $3,750 over two years for each new job created. He also said he would appoint a council of economic advisors to figure out how to best leverage the state’s agriculture, manufacturing, tourism and other industries to create jobs.

Whitney said public-sector investment would speed the state’s recovery, and he said he would fight for things such as free higher education for Illinois residents and a single-payer universal health care system. He also would create a “green capital bill” to promote jobs through renewable energy, sustainable transportation, “smart” urban redesign and energy efficiency.