The Study Guide: Candidates on the big issues
With the election just days away, we gave Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn and Republican challenger Bruce Rauner a questionnaire on five big topics: Education, the minimum wage, income taxes, pensions and jobs.
You can see the full questionnaires (and the candidates' full answers) below, but we’ve also worked them into a kind of SparkNotes guide for Illinois voters. We kept the negative barbs out of this guide, but as you’ll see in the full questionnaire, both candidates couldn’t help but take swipes at each other.
If you’ve watched any of the three debates, or even turned a television on in Illinois lately, you’ve probably heard the candidates talking about income tax on the campaign trail.
It’s partly because the State of Illinois’ budget is in a bit of trouble. Take the backlog of bills, for example: State estimates can vary, but right now Illinois is dealing with more than $4.1 billion in unpaid bills.
Back in 2011, Gov. Quinn signed a bill that boosted the income tax rate up to five percent for four years, though it was scheduled to drop down to 3.75 percent at the end of this year.
Quinn’s since said the state needs to “maintain the state’s income tax where it is today” as part of his balanced budget plan. Quinn says his plan will help pay down Illinois’ bills, avoid cuts to education, public safety and human services, prevent property tax increases and provide additional property tax relief.
Meanwhile, Rauner says he wants to bring that income tax rate down.
“We need to roll back the income tax hike if we want to attract high-quality jobs back to Illinois,” he wrote. “That’s the ultimate way to fix the budget—by having more tax-paying citizens.”
Though both candidates were asked what the “right income tax rate” would be for Illinois, Rauner didn’t specify a number. In his campaign literature, Rauner says he would roll back the income tax rate to three percent over the next four years.
The minimum wage debate has been important not just between Rauner and Quinn but across the state and the country. We asked both candidates if they’d raise the minimum wage, and if so, by how much, and when?
Rauner’s gotten flack about moving back and forth on this issue. Videos and audio have surfaced that show Rauner calling for cuts to Illinois’ $8.25 minimum wage. But in our questionnaire, he says he is for raising the state minimum wage, with some caveats:
“The state of Illinois should implement a phased-in minimum wage increase, coupled with workers’ compensation and lawsuit reforms to bring down employer costs,” he wrote. He added that he’d support an increase to the federal minimum wage so that Illinois remains “competitive with our neighboring states.”
Rauner didn’t say how much he wants to raise the minimum wage, or when he would do it, if elected.
Quinn’s also been criticized on this issue: He’s been for raising the minimum wage, but some have called him out for not boosting it during his time in office, despite having a Democratic majority in the General Assembly. Quinn wrote in our questionnaire that he’s working on it.
“Yes, I am currently fighting to raise the state’s minimum wage to at least $10 an hour to help Illinois workers and working families,” he said.
We asked the candidates to dig into two issues when it comes to education: Charter schools and funding. Right now, there’s a limit on how many charter schools can be opened in Illinois.
Rauner, a long-time supporter of charter schools and a financial supporter of charters (including one that carries his name on the Near West Side of Chicago), says he’d throw out that limit.
“Public charter schools are not the only solution for parents looking for better educational options,” he wrote. “But they are an important resource for communities with no other option.”
Meanwhile, Quinn says he’d keep the 120 cap on charters.
“I believe before moving forward with authorizing more charters, it’s important to complete an impact study of how charter school policy has impacted the district as a whole,” Quinn wrote.
An important note: No matter who gets elected, the state is far from reaching that 120 cap. So regardless of whether the limit gets thrown out, there’s still room to grow in the charter sector.
Both candidates have talked a lot about the importance of funding education—and they’ve criticized each other even more over that issue. But ask how much the State of Illinois should pay per child for public education and neither gives a number.
In Rauner’s answer, he listed his experience on education boards, and the schools and programs he and his wife Diana have financially supported.
Quinn’s answer is the closest we got to an actual number. He says his five-year blueprint will “allow us to fund the foundations level up to at least 100 percent over the next five years.”
Another quick note: the power to fund public education in Illinois doesn’t just rest in the governor’s pen. Right now, the foundation level of what’s known as “general state aid” is currently set at $6,119. But no district gets that exact number from the state, as there’s a formula for funding that includes local property taxes, grants and other funds. As the sausage gets made, that original per-pupil amount can be molded and changed into something different.
So no matter who is governor, the general assembly holds the key to what districts get per student.
Ah, pensions. We couldn’t have an Illinois voter guide without addressing this topic. The State of Illinois currently faces a $100 billion dollar pension shortfall.
Quinn says the best way out of the pension mess is the pension reform bill he signed last December.
“The comprehensive pension reform I fought for a [sic] signed into law will eliminate our unfunded pension liability and stabilize our pension system,” Quinn wrote.
The reform package includes reductions to some workers’ benefits and boosts the retirement age. It’s currently facing a constitutional challenge, but Quinn hasn’t released any sort of plan B in case it’s overturned. When asked, he commonly uses a familiar phrase that Quinn credits his father with: “don’t take an aspirin until you get a headache.”
Rauner says he would also wait to see what the judge rules before constructing his own pension plan, but wrote, “I have always maintained moving to a new, defined contribution system for future work is a critical component of true pension reform that would be constitutional.”
The State of Illinois’ job market was the number one issue during the first gubernatorial debate. While the state continues to add jobs, it still struggles in national rankings. We asked the candidates to pick one job sector that they think the state should focus on first to get the economy growing again. Neither candidate chose just one.
Rauner said the state’s economy is in such dire straits that “we can’t afford to focus on only one sector.”
“From tech to manufacturing to energy development, we need policies that unlock the natural advantages of our state,” he wrote.
Quinn’s answer was similar.
“One of the great advantages to Illinois is the state’s diverse economy, and continuing to growing [sic] the economy requires a focus on multiple sectors,” he wrote.
Quinn said the state could drive innovation by building research and technology hubs in sectors like manufacturing, agriculture, energy and IT.
Quinn and Rauner have both turned to their backgrounds as proof of their ability to create jobs. Quinn has held a lot of job announcement press conferences ahead of the election, like this week’s news that Amazon will open a distribution center here. But even as job numbers continue to improve for Illinois, Quinn has faced criticism for the state’s low overall employment levels.
Meanwhile, Rauner has spent a lot of time talking up his work with GTCR, a private equity firm he built (the R stands for Rauner), as well as explaining how his career in business could help him fix Illinois’ financial woes. But he hasn’t escaped criticism either: Rauner’s faced hit after hit of accusations of mismanagement in some of the companies GTCR invested in.
Rauners's full questionnaire answers