Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Quinn, Brady duke it out in first debate

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn and his Republican opponent for governor, state Sen. Bill Brady, talked policy and traded shots in a debate this morning held by Chicago's Union League Club.

Quinn started things off by outlining the difficulties he faced when he entered office last year after his predecessor, former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, was impeached and removed from office. He said he was confronted with three major crises — the national recession, Illinois’ budget deficit and an “integrity crisis” — when he took office during “probably the toughest time in Illinois history.”

Quinn put a positive spin on the state’s current bleak situation by listing accomplishments from his year in office, including pension reform, campaign finance reform, budget cuts and getting a recall amendment on the November general election ballot.

“I took on those crises. And rolled up my sleeves and took the oath of office. And [I] have worked hard ever since,” Quinn said at the Chicago debate.

Brady focused on his ability to bring a business perspective to a state budget that is drowning in red ink. “As a businessman, I know what those challenges are like. … Our state when you look at it like a bus is in a difficult spot. … When you look at the liabilities section of the balance sheet, the numbers are horrifying.”

Brady reiterated his plan to eliminate the gasoline tax and the estate tax, as well as reduce fees. He repeated his plans to balance the budget without a tax increase and to cut agency budgets by 10 percent. “We cannot work our way out of this crisis with higher taxes, more borrowing and more spending,” he said.

Quinn said the best way to create more jobs is through working directly with businesses and tailoring tax cuts to get the most bang for the buck. “The way you grow jobs is you have a governor that can work with CEOs and small businesses, and actually talk to them about targeted tax cuts — not the estate tax on multimillionaires. That’s not going to grow our economy. What really is going to grow our economy is targeted tax cuts that really help businesses grow jobs.”

Quinn touted his role in bringing Ford Motor Co. manufacturing jobs to the state and persuading Navistar, a producer of large truck parts, to remain in Illinois.

Brady took several shots at Quinn over the department of corrections’ secret “Meritorious Good Time Push” early release program, which let prisoners — some of them violent offenders — out after serving only weeks of their sentences. Brady said Quinn’s mismanagement of the budget and the agency put Illinois residents at risk. He said public safety would be his top budget priority, followed by paying off pension and bond obligations.

Quinn said Brady can’t have it both ways by cutting the corrections budget 10 percent while still promising to safely house prisoners. “Under his plan., we’ll cut the Department of Corrections. We’ll close prisons. We’ll endanger the people of Illinois.”

Quinn emphasized education as his top spending priority. “I have the courage to tell the truth to the people of Illinois. We need more revenue for our education. … I don’t want to lose a generation of children. I don’t want to take away scholarships.” He highlighted his ability to bring in federal dollars, while Brady said Illinois must stop looking to U.S. Congress for bailouts.

“Last time I checked, the people of Illinois paid a lot of money to the federal government in taxes, and we are entitled to some of that money back,” Quinn said.

Perhaps Brady’s sharpest barb was his renouncement of Quinn’s “secret” deal with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which allows the union to avoid layoffs until 2012 in exchange for at least $50 million in cost-cutting measures. He called on the governor to rescind the offer, which came on the heels off the union’s endorsement of Quinn for governor. “It’s wrong, and you know it,” Brady said.

Quinn said Brady lacks a record of accomplishments, even after spending more than 15 years in the legislature. “This is how you roll up your sleeves and get the job done in Illinois. You don’t just talk about it. You have a record. I have a record of accomplishment. … Brady has no record. He talks about great things, but he doesn’t deliver,” Quinn said. He played off of Brady’s home building business to criticize the Republican's lack of a specific budget plan: “Who in the world would ever buy a home from some one without seeing the blueprint?”

Brady did choose to focus primarily on what is wrong in Illinois instead of any past successes he may have had as a legislator. On the topic of overdue payments to service providers, he said: “The people out there are on life support because your government has left them with an IOU. And they’re having to let people [go.] Those are real jobs.”

Both candidates, usually not known for their strong public speaking styles, seemed to have stepped up their games for the debate.

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