Editorial: In governor race, Democrats obsess over raising taxes

Six Democrats are running for governor, and a number are fine candidates in many respects. We'll have a recommendation to offer soon.

But before we do, a word for the entire field:

Not too long ago, the conversation about Illinois' challenges seemed to center around the state's runaway spending. Not too long ago, the hand-wringing seemed with good reason to be about the unsustainable rising cost of public pensions and other uncontrolled expenses.

With the notable exception of the quixotic Robert Marshall, a Reagan Republican who abandoned the GOP after George Bush took us to war in Iraq, the Democratic candidates seem almost oblivious to the state's expense-side problems.

If you listen to them talk, most of them seem to view all of the problems being about revenue.

For example, none of them bring up public pensions if they can help it.

When they do, it's often with a sense that the old fears of unaffordable benefits were the figment of some collective imagination.

State Sen. Daniel Biss apologizes for authoring the pension reform bill that ultimately proved to be unconstitutional, saying Springfield was gripped by "hysteria" that made everyone including him act irresponsibly.

J.B. Pritzker, meanwhile, doesn't bring pensions up in conversation much except to use Biss' pension legislation to beat him up as no real friend to teachers.

In general, most of the field seems to have bought into the public employee lobby's notion that the pension problem is one solely of Springfield misdirecting pension payments. That's part of the problem to be sure, but only part of it.

Facts matter, and the facts are, ever-escalating pension costs contribute significantly to the taxpayers' ability to cover the obligation.

Fairness, ethics, keeping promises - all must be part of the solution, but let's not kid ourselves about the facts of the problem to be solved.

To the Democratic candidates (other than Marshall), the primary answer seems to be a graduated income tax that presumably would ask the rich to provide enough revenue to pay all the state's debts.

In promoting it, they recognize for the most part that it will take an amendment of the state constitution to make it happen and they don't shy away from advocating for it.

The constitution, by the way, doesn't just limit what Springfield can do to get around the state's flat income tax. It also limits what Springfield can do to rein in public pensions. But candidates who see no problem changing the constitution to allow for higher taxes don't suggest changing it to help deal with pension reform.

It would be reassuring if the candidates would bring better balance to the conversations about the state budget. Because one of these candidates may become governor.

And if that happens, we'd like to know that he has the discipline and wisdom to address Illinois' expense problems, not just raise taxes.

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