CHICAGO (AP) – Gov. Pat Quinn enters the election year of 2014 on the heels of a number of state legislative feats, including his signing of landmark reforms addressing Illinois’ $100 billion pension crisis and the legalization of same-sex marriage.
In a year-end interview with The Associated Press, the Chicago Democrat highlighted those accomplishments as evidence of both Illinois’ progress and his leadership, hinting at the themes of his re-election campaign and saying he isn’t concerned about criticism from four Republican challengers gearing up to take him on.
The four Republicans – venture capitalist Bruce Rauner, state Sen. Bill Brady, state Sen. Kirk Dillard and state Treasurer Dan Rutherford – all have questioned Quinn’s ability to get things done in Springfield. Rauner blasts Quinn as a political insider, despite his reformer image.
In the Democratic primary in March, the governor faces one challenger, Tio Hardiman, a former anti-violence activist in Chicago, after other bigger-name Democrats declined to take him on.
In the interview in his Chicago office, Quinn boasted of having pushed pension reform onto the public agenda and nudging lawmakers to act on it – setting Illinois on better financial footing for decades. He said he is prepared to float another job-creating capital construction plan in the new year. And, while declining to comment on extending the state’s temporary income tax hike, which expires next January, he voiced support for adoption of a “progressive” income tax, which could be on the November ballot, and for closing corporate tax loopholes.
Drawing a line against his challengers, he contrasted his actions as governor with what he described as opponents who are merely “talkers.”
Here are edited excerpts of his remarks:
Q: Looking back at 2013, what do you feel was your biggest accomplishment?
A: “We had to work very hard on the [pension reform] mission. And it was a mission. I suggested we have a special session to set up the conference committee, which is kind of going back to the future in Illinois. But clearly, there was gridlock on the pension issue and we had to resolve that deadlock.
I did suspend the legislative pay [to pressure lawmakers to act]. That was necessary to bring public attention to the importance of getting this done. That kind of added into the whole momentum of getting a decision on this matter.”
Q: How much do you think pension reform will be an issue in the 2014 campaign?
A: “There are those who are posers and there are those who are leaders. I think we led on pension reform. We didn’t just talk about it. We achieved it. For the public, there are ways to differentiate between the posers and the talkers and the people who get things done.
There were some people, even at the last minute, trying to tear it down. ... I’m not going to name names, but it was disappointing. I have to salute Bill Brady. He voted for it. He and I don’t agree on a lot of things ... but I’ve got to give him credit.”
Q: What would you rate as your next top accomplishment?
“It was important that marriage equality became the law. ... Fifty years from now, people will look back and say, ‘Those folks in 2013, they did some pretty important things for our future.’”
Q: You’ve received a lot of criticism of your leadership. Do you think those doubts have been quelled?
A: “To me, leadership is all about working as a team. I want to be a humble governor who is proud of our people. I inherited a huge mess. I don’t think there’s any governor in America that had to deal with the three crises I inherited [corruption scandals from two former governors, the economic recession and the state’s fiscal crisis]. Those were very monumental challenges that require leadership, not just somebody who talks all the time about themselves.”
Q: The state budget will be a real challenge this year. What should the state do about the temporary income-tax increase expiring in January, halfway through fiscal 2015?
A: “We’re going to deal with that in the coming year.”
Q: Will you push for the proposal to ask voters on the November ballot to approve a graduated income tax, or “progressive” tax, which would make wealthier people pay at a higher rate?
“Taxes are never popular but they should be based on ability to pay. I have always favored a system for those who are extremely wealthy, they should not have the same tax rate as a minimum wage worker ... I (worked to) put it on the ballot in the past. That’s the only way to accomplish it. The voters have to vote for it.”
Q: You’ve said other things won’t take priority until pensions are solved. Now what?
A: “We have to keep strengthening our economy. We have to definitely keep investing in our roads.”
Q: So can we expect another proposal for a capital construction program in 2014?
A: “That’s important if we’re going to have a strong economy. I’ve talked to leaders of both parties and members about that subject ... In the spring we have to begin to discuss this. “
Q: How would you pay for it?
A: “We have to look at it. There are some loopholes in the tax code, corporate loopholes that don’t really forward economic growth. ... By closing them, (that) could provide resources to invest in things we know produce economic growth for all kinds of businesses, large and small.”
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