SPRINGFIELD -- After weeks of defending the management of his troubled anti-violence program, Gov. Pat Quinn went on the attack Wednesday, criticizing his Republican opponent in front of a group of business leaders for not yet releasing a specific state budget plan.
"His plan for our budget can be summed up in three words: 'Mum's the word,"' Quinn said of venture capitalist Bruce Rauner of Winnetka. "I don't think that's a good thing for our state."
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Rauner, meanwhile, told the hundreds of business officials at the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and Illinois Manufacturers' Association's annual meeting that they were being "taken for granted" by politicians who are "taking your money and spending it on other things."
The candidates' separate afternoon speeches captured the root conflict of the nationally watched race for Illinois governor: vastly different visions about how to revive a lagging economy in one of the Midwest's last Democratic strongholds.
But little has been said on that topic in recent weeks, as a scathing audit and several subsequent investigations into the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative, a troubled anti-violence program set up shortly before Quinn's 2010 election, have dogged the Chicago Democrat's re-election campaign. Quinn, a veteran campaigner who has built an image as an ethical reformer during his decades in politics, has gone on the defensive in media interviews that have been dominated by questions about the program.
Rauner, meanwhile, has used the scandal to compare Quinn to his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, who was convicted of federal corruption charges.
Neither candidate mentioned the scandal Wednesday, choosing instead to portray themselves as the candidate best for Illinois business.
Quinn, who acknowledged that he and members of the crowd "may not always agree" on things, warned Wednesday that education would be hurt by "savage cuts" if the income tax rate falls to 3.75 percent from its current 5 percent next January.
"I'm going to fight as hard as I can to pass this budget," he said of the $38 billion plan he unveiled in late March, shortly after the primary election.
"We have lots more work to do, but it all begins with having a fair budget that invests in our future and our children."
Rauner, who's against extending the tax increase, said he'd unveil details of a plan "very soon" that he says would step the rate back down and create economic growth.
"How about getting a booming economy and grow(ing) our way out of our problems?" Rauner said. "We cannot tax our way out of our problems."
Quinn, in turn, praised himself for what he described as the "political courage" to release budget specifics during a heated campaign.
"Do not fall for platitudes that are easy to say," Quinn said. "They don't get to the bottom of what we have to do in Illinois."