AP Interview: Ill. governor vague on ways to solve $13B budget deficit, long-term goals

By Deanna Bellandi, AP
Monday, October 4, 2010

AP Interview: Quinn vague on ideas for Ill. future

CHICAGO — Despite accusing his opponent of offering vague fairy tales, Gov. Pat Quinn provided only a hazy picture Monday of his own plans for guiding Illinois through a paralyzing budget crisis and moving the state forward after the emergency is over.

In an interview with The Associated Press, Quinn, 61, said closing a $13 billion deficit depends on spending more on education. He hopes “investing in people” will help the Illinois economy grow and produce more money for state government. The Chicago Democrat said he’s also counting on additional money from the federal government, although there’s little evidence that Washington plans more major bailouts.

Asked what he would like to accomplish once Illinois has a healthy budget, Quinn mentioned additional college scholarships, further tightening government ethics and seeing that the state’s new public works program is used to build schools and improve Internet access.

Quinn has aspired to lead the state for much of the last two decades. As lieutenant governor, he was thrust into the top job 19 months ago, when Gov. Rod Blagojevich was booted out after being arrested by the FBI.

Recent polls show he is now locked in a tight race with Republican state Sen. Bill Brady, 49, for election to a full term. The primary issue has been how to balance the budget.

But in the AP interview, Quinn talked mostly about making the most of existing programs, not taking government in new directions.

“We have to have a governor who understands these basics,” he said.

Quinn also said Illinois would be better off it had adopted legislative term limits so that Brady and House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, would no longer be in office.

And Quinn said he has no interest in reviving a cost-cutting program of early release for nonviolent prison inmates, despite his past support for the idea.

He also parried questions about the strength of his leadership by saying he was “disappointed” with legislators for ducking tough decisions. He aimed his strongest criticism at the minority party, not the Democrats who dominate Springfield.

“My respect for the ability of the Republicans in the House and the Senate to tackle hard and tough things for the public is greatly diminished,” Quinn said.

After Blagojevich was arrested, Quinn inherited a government seen as dishonest by many Illinoisans and crippled by the worst budget crisis in state history.

Quinn and lawmakers succeeded in passing major ethics laws, although not everything that reformers had wanted. But they have failed to get the budget under control. Quinn’s calls for a tax increase have been rejected, while lawmakers have refused to make major spending cuts.

Brady, who is from Bloomington, had condemned Quinn’s tax proposal and promised to balance the budget through spending cuts. But Brady admits he doesn’t have a specific plan for closing the massive deficit.

Associated Press Writer Karen Hawkins contributed to this report.

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