CHICAGO – Gov. Pat Quinn’s tour of the state to push his program aimed at helping first-time homebuyers quickly turned political Monday as both he and his Republican gubernatorial opponent wasted no time highlighting likely recurring themes in the 2014 race: wealth and taxes.
In four planned appearances, Quinn sought to promote his “Welcome Home Illinois” program, which would help first-time homebuyers make down payments on homes and secure lower mortgage rates. In Chicago, the first event, Quinn said the program would “help families who don’t have political action committees, who don’t have lobbyists, who don’t have millions of dollars to buy more than one home.”
It was a not-so-subtle reminder that his GOP challenger, Bruce Rauner, is a wealthy venture capitalist who owns multiple homes.
Before Quinn had stopped talking, Rauner’s campaign had responded in a statement, dismissing the housing program as old news – the latest of three such programs that have been launched, another by Quinn and one by predecessor Rod Blagojevich.
Rauner’s campaign also used Quinn’s speaking tour to raise questions about whether the governor might soon allow property taxes to be raised in Chicago and thus hurt people he says he’s trying to help. The Illinois Legislature has sent the governor a bill that would allow the city to overhaul two city pension programs, partly through such a tax hike.
“Will he break his promises again and again and allow Chicago property taxes to rise?” Rauner’s campaign statement asked.
Quinn again Monday gave no hint whether he will sign or veto the bill, saying only that he is continuing to study it. Quinn has broadly railed against raising property taxes, and reiterated Monday his decades-long devotion to cutting property taxes.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel is hoping to use the bill to push for local approval of the tax increase, even though the provision that explicitly called for the increase was stripped from the bill after Quinn said he would not support it.
Quinn also stopped in Rockford and Moline and was scheduled to visit Bartonville late Monday afternoon.
The proposal to offer first-time homebuyers $7,500 for down payments and interest rates as low as 3.75 percent for a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage is the “most aggressive program in state history to encourage home ownership by everyday people,” Quinn said in Chicago.
Illinois Housing Development Authority spokeswoman Cami Freeman disputed the Rauner campaign’s contention after Quinn’s Chicago appearance. While there have been similar programs in Illinois the past, including those that help veterans, Freeman said this new program offers a better interest rate and a larger down payment than other programs.