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Tax question looms over Illinois governor's race

Published: Sunday, June 1, 2014 11:42 p.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, June 2, 2014 12:50 a.m. CDT
Caption
(M. Spencer Green)
Gov. Pat Quinn (left) and his Republican rival, Bruce Rauner, shake hands April 11 at the annual meeting of the Illinois Education Association in Chicago. IEA president Cinda Klickna stands between them.

SPRINGFIELD – The end of Illinois lawmakers' spring session leaves Gov. Pat Quinn pursuing re-election in a position he wasn't seeking: Without the money he says is necessary to avoid deep budget cuts, teacher layoffs and higher property taxes, but not having to sign off on an income tax increase before the November vote.

The situation, with Democrats likely to seek new revenues after the election, sets up a summer of tough campaigning between Quinn and Republican Bruce Rauner in a race that is expected to be one of the most expensive and competitive nationwide.

Quinn has openly advocated for an extension of the state's 2011 temporary tax hike, which cost a typical taxpayer more than $1,000 this year. But with the election and voters in mind, fellow Democrats adjourned with an alternative budget after coming up well short of the votes needed to back a tax increase, despite the governor's personal appeals to them.

On one hand, Quinn can claim he has been upfront with voters, laying out the state's dire financial situation even if it meant embracing a politically unpopular idea, while Rauner has remained mum about details of what he wants to do if the tax rolls back in January and leaves a roughly $1.8 billion revenue hole.

On the other hand, Quinn faces voters who know he's likely to quickly push for the tax hike after the vote. And he wasn't able to sway his own party on his agenda, showing a lack of Democratic unity behind him and the persistent challenge he has in influencing lawmakers in Springfield.

"He did put himself out on a limb, politically," said Christopher Mooney, director of the Institute of Government and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois. "Now he basically gets the blame and none of the benefit."

House Speaker Michael Madigan acknowledged last week as lawmakers debated a budget that Democrats did not give Quinn what he wanted in the midst of a steep re-election challenge. But he suggested the tax question will define the election campaign in the months ahead, with Quinn in favor and Rauner against.

"My expectation is you'll have a clear line of division going into the election," he told reporters. "People can make their choice."

Rauner and other Republicans have vowed to fight any tax increase. The Winnetka venture capitalist has accused Quinn of "playing political games" on the tax and released robocalls in Democratic lawmakers' districts pushing opposition to the tax extension.

"This phony budget is an unsurprising, yet tragic, conclusion to five years of failure under Pat Quinn," Rauner said in a statement.

But he has yet to release details of his own spending plan, saying only that it is coming "soon."

The Quinn campaign has seized on that, counting up the number of days Rauner has gone without releasing a budget, starting from the time he announced an exploratory committee last year. A recent Quinn video ad pokes fun at the idea, saying in that same amount of time, humans could travel to Mars and back.

Quinn's office has defended his push for the extension as the "honest choice." His aides note how he met with lawmakers numerous times on the issue, and Madigan called a special meeting of the House Democratic caucus so Quinn could make his best case. Ultimately, fewer than half of the House's 71 Democrats supported the measure.

"He doesn't make decisions on the basis of how it impacts him politically," Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said of the governor. "He wanted to do the right thing, regardless of the political (impact)."

Quinn will go before voters having accomplished few priority items outlined in a budget speech earlier this year: Despite Democratic supermajorities in both chambers, the Legislature didn't approve Quinn's idea to offer all Illinois homeowners a $500 property tax refund or reduce a filing fee for a limited liability corporation from $500 to $39. Nor has it yet increased the state's minimum wage, a big priority for Quinn and state Democrats in parallel with a national push by the party.

"The governor has not been able to get everyone on the same page," said Jonathan Jackson at Southern Illinois University's Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. "Once again the Democrats have failed to get done what all three of their major leaders contend is a matter of very high party and governmental importance."

But even Democrats who bucked Quinn on the tax issue praised him for pushing it.

"If there's one thing you can say, it's he in general does what he believes is right," said state Rep. Jerry Costello, a Smithton Democrat.

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