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Commentary: Neither Brady nor Quinn has made his case

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Oct. 24, 2010 - As this nasty, uninspiring campaign concludes, don't expect Bill Brady to make his best case.

The Republican gubernatorial nominee could argue that chief executives and legislators over the past four decades have confronted budget crises most forthrightly and effectively when Democrats and Republicans shared power, responsibility and, therefore, the political risk for spending cuts and tax increases.

But he won't.

To do so would broaden his appeal to independents and Democrats disenchanted with Gov. Pat Quinn's erratic, limp stewardship. It would resonate with those who believe it will take a bipartisan cauldron to brew the potion that will eradicate a debilitating deficit projected to reach $15 billion by early next year.

But it also would disgruntle GOP legislative leaders and distract party faithful by acknowledging the virtual certainty Democrats will retain clout in the General Assembly after Nov. 2 barring a seismic upheaval approaching 10 on a Richter political scale. Moreover, it could arm Quinn and others who have questioned the sincerity of Brady's vow not to raise taxes under any circumstances.

So, the Republican stands on a rickety platform. Chop unspecified billions here. Borrow a billion or even tens of billions there. Reduce taxes to grow the economy and tax receipts. Ignore reality.

Never mind that Brady's proposed 10 percent reduction in spending would narrow the operating deficit by perhaps a fifth even if lawmakers and their constituents abided slashes in education, mental health and other traditionally harbored areas. Never mind that history tells us a bumper revenue harvest from the suddenly robust economy conjured by Brady would generate only $2.4 billion in growth under current rates - or about 15 percent of the deficit. Never mind that those outsized spending cuts and revenues would close less than half of the gap. Would he seek to borrow more billions after excoriating Quinn and Rod Blagojevich for saddling our kids and grandkids with mega-debt?

Under a microscope, Brady's antidote turns placebo. Still he could well prevail Nov. 2 as voters express their sense of misdirection at the national and state levels with Democrats at the helm and learn more about the "neither of the above" alternatives. The Socialist roots of the Green Party's Rich Whitney fuel his big-government, business-belting agenda. Libertarian Lex Green strangely wants to eliminate the income tax and escalate property taxes. Scott Lee Cohen merits no moral standing after pouring millions into his campaign while squabbling over child support.

In the end, it must be Brady or Quinn, and neither has credibility on finances. Quinn laudably has sermonized for the additional revenues that must become part of Illinois' salvation. Yet, he has not demonstrated the steady, persuasive leadership that wins converts, and he has certainly not found religion on spending. While he boasts of $3 billion in budget cuts, he balks at delineating them. Not surprisingly, in documents prepared for potential bond buyers in July, his administration reported a $500 million increase in annual spending on his watch.

The state continues to build a Mount Everest of unpaid bills and debt. Never has it been so bedeviled by red ink and pastel politicians. With notable exceptions, Democratic and Republican lawmakers generally have stood for nothing more than preserving or attaining power.

Quinn has not grown in the job. Could Brady? Could he restore fiscal integrity by working productively with Democratic and Republican lawmakers in an aura of shared responsibility and risk? Or would he cling to a reality-averse strategy? Those are key questions for those of us who have anguished for months over this choice.

Mike Lawrence, former reporter, press secretary for then-Gov. Jim Edgar and director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, is retired. He writes a twice-monthly column. 

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