By Bethany Jaeger
At this time last year, Rod Blagojevich was governor and battling with the state legislature to restore funding to human services and to state parks and historic sites. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors continued to indict members of Blagojevich’s inner circle in an ongoing investigation into political corruption, which foreshadowed his impeachment and removal from office. At the same time, Pat Quinn was lieutenant governor, urging voters to approve a referendum to call another constitutional convention to rewrite the state charter.
It’s been nine months since Quinn replaced Blagojevich in the executive office. In that time, he’s had to lead Illinois through a bruised public confidence in government, a nationwide recession and a state budget deficit that once was projected at $12.4 billion.
Last spring, he urged legislators to approve a two-year flat income tax increase from 3 percent to 4.5 percent for all income levels, minus a personal exemption for low-income families, to stave off deeper cuts to state programs.
But while stopping in Springfield today as part of a nine-city tour officially launching his bid for a full term as governor in 2010, Quinn did not mention the need for an income tax increase. He, instead, laid out a platform of reviving the economy by creating jobs through public works projects, investing in “green” jobs by developing alternative energy sources, increasing investments in education, leveraging state assets to help small businesses access capital and promoting Illinois trade and tourism.
He did not offer specifics, such as whether the initiatives would be funded through existing programs or through new spending programs.
When asked by reporters at Springfield’s Abraham Lincoln Capital Airport whether he had or would change his tax hike proposal, Quinn said: “The time to do that, I think, will be next year after the primary because there’s not going to be a General Assembly session until then, unless there’s an emergency. And I don’t think the votes are there today for that, so we just have to keep working on it.”
His opponent in the Democratic primary is three-term state Comptroller Dan Hynes, who announced his bid in September. Hynes issued a statement today criticizing Quinn’s “passing remark” on the state’s budget deficit.
“I, too, support jobs and better education, but until we have a plan to pay our bills, balance our budget and emerge from the fiscal hole that is threatening the future of Illinois, these campaign promises ring hollow,” Hynes said in the statement.
Hynes has proposed that after a series of cost-saving initiatives in his first year in office, he would pursue a graduated income tax increase. According to his campaign, the increased rate would primarily affect taxpayers earning more than $200,000 a year. Changing the income tax structure from a flat rate to a graduated rate, however, would require changing the state Constitution. That would require the state legislature to approve placing the question on the general election ballot in November 2010 for the constitutional amendment to take effect in 2011.
Neither Quinn’s nor Hynes’ income tax proposal would take effect and generate revenue soon enough to save the next fiscal year’s budget.
Quinn said in Springfield today: “I didn’t create the deficit. I inherited it. But I think I’m the person to repair the damage, working with people. ... I think I’ve shown over the time I’ve been governor that we’ve been able to stabilize the government, restore the honor and integrity to the office of governor. You have to have a governor that people trust and know is an honest person, and I think I am.”
He pointed to his involvement in enacting a $31 billion capital construction program, revamping the state’s public access laws, reforming the state’s procurement and contracting rules and state ethics laws for lobbyists and passing a referendum to allow voters to recall sitting governors to the 2010 ballot.
While he said it’s an honor to be the governor of Illinois, he added that it’s also a public trust. “And I want to assure the people of Illinois that my heart is ever at your service.
For more background on Quinn, read Illinois Issues February issue.