Next Illinois governor faces tough decisions
As the candidates for Illinois governor make their final pitches to voters with two weeks to go until Election Day, it's clear the winner faces four years littered with big issues and tough decisions.
The Illinois Supreme Court could decide whether a move to save more than $1 billion per year on teacher and worker retirement costs is legal, leaving the next governor to determine what, if anything, to do next. Business leaders and others want a massive plan to fund road construction approved by a state that already has trouble paying its bills on time.
And either Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn or Republican businessman Bruce Rauner will be in the thick of it.
"It all really hinges on this governor's race," said state Rep. Tom Morrison, a Palatine Republican.
A debate over the fairness of school funding has many suburban superintendents spooked, and the law that allows for the sale of medical marijuana in Illinois is scheduled to expire during the next governor's term.
That's to say nothing of the ongoing debate over taxes that will grip the Capitol soon.
"These monsters are not going away," state Sen. Mike Noland, an Elgin Democrat, said. "They're going to be in the closet and under the bed" waiting to emerge.
At a debate Monday, both candidates for governor were asked about the looming pensions court decision. Quinn signed the benefit cuts into law, criticized Rauner for trying to kill off the proposal late last year and wants to see what the court says.
"You've got to take on hard things, tough things, on behalf of the common good," Quinn said. "My opponent is all about easy street."
Rauner has said the plan is weak and wants to move future retirement benefits for state employees and teachers into 401(k)-style accounts.
"Gov. Quinn, he's running on scare tactics," Rauner said. "He's making up numbers about a budget for me."
Illinois residents will feel the effects of their vote almost immediately as lawmakers start working to put together a spending plan early next year. A governor can try to guide that discussion and could wield a lot of power in the process if Democrats who control the House don't have enough members to block a veto.
Neither Quinn nor Rauner, though, can control what the stock market does in the next four years, and the winds of the U.S. economy could help define his term.
Quinn touts his ability to win approval in 2009 for a massive road construction plan that his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich, was unable to accomplish in his terms, and the Illinois Chamber of Commerce that backs Rauner is among the groups that want to see another building plan soon.
The money to pay for Quinn's plan shows up all over Illinois today in the form of higher vehicle fees, higher liquor taxes and video gambling machines in bars. Another program like it will almost certainly require another way to bring in money.
Metra has seen this month how controversial paying for capital projects can be, as its plan to raise fares has met criticism.
"The money for capital projects is going to be a very, very hard thing to do because we still have unpaid bills," Morrison said.
Voters can find plenty of differences between the two candidates for governor, but some of the issues they face are unpredictable.
Both have been skeptical of an ongoing effort to change how state money is distributed to schools, which suburban officials have decried because wealthier districts would lose money. Both have generally opposed the plan that's being circulated now, but haven't offered specific changes. The proposal is likely to shift -- maybe drastically -- before it reaches the new governor's desk, if it ever does.
And then there's the issue of concealed carry. Quinn, a lifelong gun control advocate, was saddled with a federal court ruling that required Illinois officials to adopt a law allowing people to carry a concealed weapon. He tried to rewrite it but in the end lost that battle.
The next governor could end up helping steer any changes to that law, whether it be further restrictions or a loosening of the rules.