Republican voters will make a decision Tuesday that the party’s four candidates for Illinois governor maintain is a referendum on the state’s future.
Bruce Rauner, State Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady, and State Treasurer Dan Rutherford have made their cases, hammering away at one another through a protracted primary season, as to why they have the best shot at unseating Democratic incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn.
All four claim they are the state’s best bet to turn around Illinois, which has the nation’s third-highest unemployment rate and the Midwest’s highest, a $100 billion unfunded pension liability, the worst credit rating of all 50 states, and the second-highest percentage of people leaving.
While Quinn will likely prevail in his primary against Tio Hardiman, a long-shot opponent with no money or media attention, a poll last week showing Hardiman pulling more than one-third of the Democratic vote underscores Quinn’s unpopularity in the polls, and his vulnerability against the right Republican candidate.
Rauner, a wealthy Winnetka venture capitalist, has enjoyed a comfortable lead in the polls, courtesy of a fortune that has funded a near-constant advertising campaign, and despite advertising funded by public-sector unions who fear his anti-union stance. Dillard, who has enjoyed endorsements and funding by state teachers’ unions also opposed to Rauner, has stayed in second place. Rutherford, whose aspirations were dealt a serious blow by a staffer’s lawsuit alleging Rutherford sexually harassed him.
The candidates are split on what will be the largest question facing state lawmakers after the November election – what to do about the 67 percent “temporary” tax increase set to significantly decrease Jan. 1, halfway through the state’s 2015 fiscal year starting July 1.
Democratic lawmakers in January 2011 raised the income tax 67 percent on individuals and 46 percent on businesses, hours before the new General Assembly elected in 2010 was set to be sworn in. Quinn signed it into law, despite his 2010 campaign pledge that he would not approve a tax increase higher than 33 percent. While the tax increase was sold as a way for the state to help balance its books and pay down a huge backlog of unpaid bills, almost all of it was swallowed up by the state’s ballooning public pension obligations.
Lawmakers supporting extending the increase, or amending the Illinois Constitution to allow for a “progressive tax” based on income, point to the state’s continuing dire finances. Despite an economic recovery and the surge in tax revenue, an analysis of the state’s annual financial report released last week by Auditor General William Holland concludes that the state ended the 2013 fiscal year with a $47.8 billion deficit, its largest ever and triple what it was just six years prior.
Rauner and Brady strongly support letting the tax expire as promised. But Dillard and Rutherford said they would be open to a possible extension because of the state’s financial condition. Dillard’s position has changed from earlier in his campaign, when he opposed any idea of an extension.
All four candidates oppose the effort to put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot to change from a flat tax to a progressive one.
Quinn has not publicly taken a stance on whether the tax should be extended or made permanent. He is expected to do so when he delivers his March 26 budget address after the primary – lawmakers voted to push back Quinn’s address from February at the governor’s request.
The four candidates also oppose Quinn’s proposal to raise Illinois’ minimum wage from $8.25 an hour to at least $10. However, Rutherford has said he would support an increase only if it would improve Illinois’ business climate and do it no harm.
Rauner caused a stir when he told an audience he would favor reducing the state minimum wage – the Midwest’s highest – to match the federal rate of $7.25. He has since called the remark “flippant” and says he would favor increasing it if the federal government does so, or if an increase is paired with workers compensation and tort reforms.
While all four candidates have sniped against each other, Rauner, an outsider who has never run for office, has been at the receiving end of much of it and portrayted as out of touch and having no political experience. But while Rauner has never run in a statewide election, his fellow candidates’ track record for winning them is not good.
Of the four candidates, Rutherford is the only one to have been elected to a statewide office with his 2010 win as state treasurer. He lost his 2006 bid to unseat Democrat Jesse White as Secretary of State.
Brady ran in the 2006 Republican gubernatorial primary, but lost. Dillard and Brady were among seven GOP candidates in the 2010 election, which Brady won, edging out Dillard by only 193 votes. Brady went on to lose to Quinn by a similar razor-thin margin of 19,400 votes.
However, a recent poll shows Quinn may have problems of his own against Chicago anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman, whose showing indicates lukewarm support for Quinn among Democrats. Hardiman, whose campaign reported $553.80 on hand at the end of 2013 compared to Quinn’s $4.5 million, is pulling down 36 percent of the vote compared to 64 percent for Quinn. The Strive Strategies poll commissioned by the news site Illinois Observer was released last week.
Rauner’s running mate for lieutenant governor is Wheaton City Councilwoman and attorney Evelyn Sanguinetti, and Dillard has chosen businesswoman and downstate Rep. Jil Tracy, of Quincy. Brady’s running mate is former Long Grove Village President and businesswoman Maria Rodriguez, and Rutherford’s is Northbrook attorney Steve Kim. Quinn’s running mate is former Chicago Public Schools CEO Paul Vallas, and Hardiman’s is Brunell Donald, a Chicago attorney.