AP Interview: Ill. governor vague on ways to address $13 billion deficit, improve economy

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ill. governor: Education is solution to deficit

CHICAGO — While Gov. Pat Quinn has accused his opponent of telling voters fairy tales about balancing the budget, he provided only a hazy picture Monday of how he would close the $13 billion deficit and then move Illinois forward.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Quinn said he would solve the state’s budget crisis by spending more on education. He hopes “investing in people” will help the Illinois economy grow and fill the budget hole when coupled with unspecified spending cuts and the possibility of more federal aid.

The Chicago Democrat had little to say about what he’d like to accomplish once the budget is balanced, listing ideas like expanded college scholarships and better Internet access.

“We have to have a governor who understands these basics,” he said.

Quinn, 61, has aspired to lead the state for much of the past two decades. He got his chance 19 months ago, when federal agents arrested former Gov. Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges, and Quinn, then the lieutenant governor, was thrust into the top job.

He’s now locked in a tight race for a full term with Republican state Sen. Bill Brady. The campaign has largely focused on who can repair the budget and put Illinois’ economy back on track.

Quinn also has had to deal with criticism over an early-release prison program intended to save the state money. He halted the program last year after the AP reported some violent offenders had been set free. In the AP interview, he said he has no interest in reviving the program and instead would focus on alternative sentencing programs to reduce the prison population.

Quinn inherited a government many Illinois residents considered dishonest and crippled by the worst budget crisis in state history. He worked with lawmakers to pass major ethics laws, although not everything that reformers had wanted.

But he failed to get the budget under control, with lawmakers rejecting his calls for a tax increase and refusing to make major spending cuts.

Brady, 49, has made Quinn’s call for a tax hike a major part of his campaign. He says raising taxes would be unfair to struggling families and hurt Illinois businesses. He also has accused Quinn of favoring big government when spending should be cut dramatically.

Most recent polls have found the two candidates virtually tied. A poll released Monday by Suffolk University shows Quinn with a small lead — 43 percent to Brady’s 37 percent. But the poll, conducted by telephone Sept. 30-Oct. 3, has a 4.4 point margin of error. That means the race is too close to call.

Quinn accused Brady of misleading voters about the budget because he lacks the courage to make tough choices. He also predicted Brady, if elected, would wind up trying to raise taxes.

“He’s not telling the truth,” Quinn said.

Brady spokeswoman Patty Schuh responded that Quinn was engaging in personal attacks that do nothing to solve Illinois’ problems.

Brady has admitted he doesn’t have a specific plan for closing the massive deficit. He’s promised to cut spending by 10 percent, which would account for roughly $2.6 billion of the $13 billion gap, but he hasn’t said where he would cut. He says a long-term budget solution depends on the Illinois economy turning around.

Despite Quinn’s complaints about Brady’s budget views, the candidates have some similarities. Both are counting on the economy turning around — Quinn saying it would happen with additional spending on schools, Brady because of a better business climate he promises to create.

Both promise additional spending cuts but won’t say what cuts they have in mind. Both would borrow money to keep the doors of government open until things turn around.

If that happens, Quinn said, he’d like to offer more college scholarships, further tighten government ethics laws and see that a public works program he pushed through the Legislature last year is used to build schools and improve Internet access. He did not propose any major new programs or changes in government structure.

Quinn parried questions about the strength of his leadership by saying he was “disappointed” with legislators for ducking tough decisions. He also reiterated his support for legislative term limits.

He refused to say whether he thinks Illinois would be better off if Rep. Michael Madigan, a powerful and controversial Chicago Democrat, were no longer speaker of the House, a post he has held for all but two of the past 27 years.

But if the state had term limits, he said, “then Mike Madigan and Bill Brady both would be out of the Legislature.”

Associated Press Writer Karen Hawkins contributed to this report.

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