CHICAGO – The question of which candidate for Illinois governor has a better approach for funding schools took center stage Wednesday as Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's running mate called for making permanent a temporary income tax increase to avoid what he called "devastating" budget cuts to education.
Former Chicago Public Schools chief Paul Vallas used his first solo public appearance since winning the Democratic nomination for lieutenant governor last month to tout Quinn's budget proposal, which calls for making the 2011 income tax increase permanent to avoid a $1.6 billion revenue drop and school cuts.
He also blasted the approach favored by Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Rauner, who wants the temporary increase to roll back in January as scheduled, restructure government, and trim the budget elsewhere.
The dueling views on school funding – between two rival camps that each boast of their experience working on school reform – are likely to play a pivotal role ahead of the November election for governor.
Vallas cited his years of experience with education – he's led school districts in Bridgeport, Conn., Philadelphia and New Orleans – saying without revenue there'd be cuts to schools. He praised Quinn's approach to extend the increase as honest, while saying Rauner hadn't provided a specific alternative.
"The bottom line is the impact would really be devastating," he said of Rauner's approach. "Either you don't understand the budget or, in effect, you're deferring the tough questions until after the election,"
But Rauner, who has been a longtime schools advocate, has said that Quinn's proposal violates a 2011 promise that the income tax increase was temporary. He has said trims to the Medicaid health program for the poor would help make up the revenue gap. Rauner is a Winnetka venture capitalist who's given millions of dollars to schools over the years, helping to fund teacher merit pay and non-union charter schools, among other things.
"Misleading the voters has been a hallmark of Quinn's for the last four years ..." Rauner campaign spokesman Mike Schrimpf said in a statement. "Bruce will make education a top priority and balance the budget without more tax increases by creating a growth economy and restructuring government."
Republican lawmakers have vowed to fight the tax extension in what's expected to be a tough round of budget negotiations. Quinn has also proposed a $500 refund to Illinois property taxpayers in a budget which increase education spending.
Legislators have to approve a spending plan by the end of May. The debate over education funding came as Illinois faces other financial problems including the lowest credit rating among the states, billions of dollars in unpaid bills and an unfunded state pension liability around $100 billion. The state has also seen steep cuts to education and services recently, though the budget lawmakers approved in 2013 avoided massive cutbacks.
Vallas kept a low profile ahead of the March 18 primary, not leaving his Connecticut job until early March.
The Palos Heights Democrat is expected to make education a large part of his platform. He offered a glimpse of that anticipated role Wednesday by highlighting his experience. He ran CPS from 1995 to 2001 before losing the 2002 Democratic nomination for governor to now-imprisoned former Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
He offered analysis of Quinn's plan alongside Rauner's approach on Wednesday, showing what he described as the impact of potential cuts on school districts.
He said he was ready to travel statewide, even by plane. Vallas relied on cars during the 2002 primary because of a fear of flying.
"I fly everywhere now," he said. "I overcame that."
Rauner, whose running mate is running mate is Wheaton City Council member Evelyn Sanguinetti, stopped in Champaign Wednesday to reiterate his stance against Quinn's proposed income tax hike extension.
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