Gov. Pat Quinn and state Sen. Bill Brady clashed on education funding at the first public debate between the two major party candidates for Governor Wednesday.
Brady's proposed "dime on every dollar" cuts to each area of the state's budget would reduce education funding by "a little less than $1 billion" next year, the Bloomington Republican estimated during the debate at Chicago's Union League Club.
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"Every area of state government is going to have to share in reconciling state spending within our means," he said.
Quinn said Brady's plan would leave 20,000 teachers without jobs and strip college students of scholarships.
Quinn accused Brady of being heartless and he pledged to maintain education funding levels as he works to reduce the state's $13 billion deficit.
He noted that he has not cut school funding in his 19 months as governor. He did not mention that earlier this year he had threatened but did not follow through with cutting education by $1.3 billion if lawmakers failed to pass an income tax increase.
Brady said Quinn's proposed 1 percentage point income tax increase to raise $2.8 billion annually for education would drive jobs out of Illinois.
Brady opposes an income tax increase, and says eliminating the estate tax, reducing the gasoline tax and giving companies tax credits would bring businesses and revenue to the state.
"Jobs follow brain power," Quinn, a Chicago Democrat, responded. "I want to make sure we invest in education."
Quinn touted the recently signed $26 billion federal jobs package, which brought $415 million in education funding to Illinois, to put toward teaching jobs. Suburban school districts from Aurora to Waukegan will be receiving between $9,800 and $6.5 million apiece, according to the state board of education.
The money will be used, in many cases, to patch holes left by still-missing state aid payments from the 2009-10 academic year.
As of the start of a new school year in August, Illinois was still behind $774 million in payments to schools, according to the state board.
Brady said looking to the federal government for education funding help just puts off addressing the state's own problems.
"We can't continue to turn to the federal government," Brady said. "That's not the solution. We have to reset the clock. Every area's got to be deconstructed and reconstructed."
Quinn criticized Brady for "wanting to keep the money in Washington."
The people of Illinois pay plenty of federal taxes, Quinn said. He says they're "entitled to a governor who is going to go to Washington and work to get money back to the state."
Brady supports state Sen. James Meeks' proposed voucher legislation, which would allow families in the worst-performing districts to send their children to private schools to get tax credit to cover tuition costs.
Quinn opposes the legislation. He said he wants to make sure the state's public schools are "second to none."
Bess Landau, an eighth-grader from West suburban Oak Park, attended the breakfast debate with dad Peter.
With her cash-strapped district, Oak Park Elementary District 97, placing an operating fund referendum on the November ballot, Bess wanted to know what Quinn and Brady might do to help.
Quinn said Illinois needs more revenue for education.
Brady stressed a need for the state to "stabilize" its finances.
"If we promise educational institutions (money) and deliver, we don't leave them with an IOU, they can manage resources at a local level," he said.
Once the economy is more stable, Brady said he'd like to reduce the state's reliance on property taxes to pay for schools.
Roosevelt University political science professor Paul Green had predicted the debate would be a "lot of adjectives but few nouns" with Quinn and Brady continuing to skirt around questions about the state's budget mess.
True to Green's prediction, the back and forth shed little light on the candidates' proposed plans to solve the state's budget crisis.
Quinn declined to outline specific cuts but said his opponent has a "fuzzy budget" and was making "pie in the sky" promises.
Brady said he would start with 10 percent across-the-board cuts and that "the exact numbers (to particular areas) will be determined," he said. "We will then ask the auditor general to conduct a business audit so we can look at real numbers rather than fantasy numbers."