Governor's race: Candidates weigh in on state’s role in economic recovery

Ryan Keith

Editor's note: This is part of a series of stories looking at how the candidates for governor would address the major issues facing state government. GateHouse News Service surveyed the campaigns and will provide their answers in stories that run through the end of the month.

There may be no issue talked about more in the primary race for governor than jobs and the economy - and making the future of both of those brighter.

But while the candidates all agree the economy is a key priority of policymaking, they come at the problem of job loss and business closure from different perspectives - and with different ways of turning that around. Here's a look at how the candidates view state government's role in promoting the economy.

How much of a role does state government and the governor play in Illinois' economic health? Why? 

Both Democratic and Republican candidates put the economy at the top of their priority list and say state government plays a great role in keeping it healthy and growing.

On the Democratic side, Gov. Pat Quinn says he has to balance smart tax policies to encourage private business success while providing enough resources to make public and higher education prosper and innovate.

Comptroller Dan Hynes argues no business wants to be in a state with major financial problems. His plans to promote a healthier budget will spur economic growth. Republicans says voters can help turn around the economy by taking government leadership in the opposite direction.

Chicago businessman Andy McKenna says his plan will control government spending and encourage policies that help entrepreneurs invest and offer tax breaks to promote growth.

Suburban businessman Adam Andrzejewski says the governor plays a "fairly large role" in the state's economic performance.

State Sen. Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale says the most important role is to bring stability to state government, by balancing the budget and bringing economic health back to Illinois.

State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington says it's up to the governor and legislature to set policy that promotes business, from lower taxes and fees to lawsuit abuse reduction and workforce development.

Conservative commentator Dan Proft says he'll be a governor that reverses policies that have been too "interventionist" in the private sector.

Former Attorney General Jim Ryan says Illinoisans only need to look for a model in Indiana -- a "fiscally disciplined state that is friendly to business" under Gov. Mitch Daniels.

"We need a strong leader in Illinois to make the same commitment here," Ryan said.

DuPage County Board Chairman Bob Schillerstrom says he'll send an "unmistakable message that Illinois is again open for new business and jobs."

Does state government have the right balance of taxes and tax breaks? Why or why not? 

Here's another area where the candidates agree on the general premise but split over the solutions.

Democrats Quinn and Hynes say the state's tax code is extremely regressive, punishing those most who make the least money. Quinn says businesses, however, on the whole pay a tax burden comparable to other states. Hynes says a progressive income tax and retooled tax credits for business will make the system fairer.

Both are pushing an income tax increase but downplay that in their answers. Republicans agree taxes are unfair but say tax increases would be devastating. Andrzejewski argues there's no need for a balance of taxes and tax breaks and says lowering government spending will lower business costs.

"Taxes, while necessary to the degree we need to fund an affordable level of government, are economically damaging above that level," Andrzejewski said.

Dillard says Democrats here have wrongly believed that taxing businesses will solve problems. But he says some tax incentives could end, including one he calls "absurd" that makes Illinoisans pay income tax on gaming winnings but not those who win here and live out of state.

Brady says state taxes and fees hurt business investment. He'll work to keep the current rates or reduce them - vowing not to support any income or sales tax increase. 

Proft says government is "cannibalizing" the private sector by asking for more money from fewer taxpayers to promote the status quo. 

Schillerstrom said he'll make it easier for businesses to get services and incentives from the state. 

Should businesses be paying more, less or the same in state taxes? Why? 

The candidates also show a party split on this question. 

Democrats Quinn and Hynes support ending certain corporate tax breaks they consider loopholes that let profitable companies skip out on "paying their fair share." Quinn also supports increasing the corporate income tax, while Hynes would keep it steady. Republicans say it's time to lower taxes on businesses. 

Dillard says the state must become more competitive with other states and lower the tax burden here.

Brady says every new job brings an estimated $4,200 on average in revenue to the state. He's proposed a $2,100 new job tax credit for businesses.

McKenna says any tax increase at this point would be a "job killer."

Proft says he's proposed cutting individual and corporate income taxes in half to help make Illinois more attractive to employers.

Ryan said he'll work to reduce or eliminate some of the "hundreds of fees (former Gov.) Rod Blagojevich imposed on business."

Schillerstrom said he'll push to end the corporate income tax and provide more incentives for job creation.

How would your administration deal with energy issues? What specifically would you do as governor to maintain and improve the state's infrastructure? 

Democrats contend developing renewable, efficient energy sources is key. Hynes says the state should lead by ensuring those priorities are part of any capital construction program and by making state buildings and vehicles more efficient and friendly to use with renewable energy sources. Hynes supports buildings new nuclear plants, while Quinn does not.

Quinn says his administration will continue to support developing green jobs and promoting wind energy.

Republicans say coal is a natural Illinois resource that must be maximized.

"I will do all I can to improve and increase the use of it," Andrzejewski said.

McKenna says Illinois should promote a "Silicon Prairie" modeled after California's success with its high-tech sector that encourages clean technology and ethanol production. Dillard also says he supports promoting cleaner-burning ethanol made from Illinois corn.

On infrastructure, Quinn says the $31 billion capital construction program he approved this year is a start toward rebuilding the state's vital systems. He wants a regularly updated multi-year construction plan to continue that work.

Hynes commits generally to ensure safe roads, schools and transit systems while criticizing Quinn for a delay in approving the capital construction program this summer.

Andrzejewski says the current construction program is "far too laden with pork projects" and he'll limit projects to only necessary road and bridges.

Ryan also says he'll cut waste in the construction program and design the next one with innovative ideas, such as Indiana where toll roads were leased to fund the projects.

McKenna says he'll back an annual construction program once the state's budget situation is improved.

Proft says a year-to-year construction plan should focus first on repairing existing problems.

Schillerstrom says an annual construction plan shouldn't exceed what the state can afford.

What do you think is the No. 1 ingredient for state government in building a stronger state economy, and why? 

The candidates agree job promotion is the top priority.

Hynes says he'll push for a stronger manufacturing base through innovation research, offer enterprising small business tax breaks and support building wind turbines to reach that goal.

Quinn says he'll promote education and job training to keep workers competitive here.

"We need to make sure we have the right workers for today's jobs, and we need to make sure those jobs stay here in Illinois," he said.

Andrzejewski says the key is spending cuts, from auditing state grants to ending the state Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.

McKenna will support small businesses through tax incentives and programs offering advice and assistance. 

Brady says he'll reduce the overall cost of doing business here by reducing excessive taxes and fees by $1 billion, reforming legal liability laws and making cuts in education, prison and health care administration.

Schillerstrom says lowering taxes is his top goal.

Proft says spending caps on state government in law and tax cuts are his priority.

Ryan says the state first must get its fiscal house in order then reshape the economy to lower business costs and encourage long-term growth.

Dillard says living within its means is state government's first challenge.

"We need to reprioritize spending, cut the waste and balance the budget," Dillard said.

Ryan Keith can be reached at 217-788-1518