Governor Rauner, Pritzker Face-Off in Final Debate

Governor Rauner, Pritzker Face-Off in Final Debate

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner and his Democratic challenger, J.B. Pritzker, trotted out familiar lines of attack in the final debate before the election but failed to break new ground on matters of policy. Cole Lauterbach has more on the debate….

Rauner lost his footing several times amid the verbal sparring, which resulted in some awkward moments for the incumbent.

The debate was in Quincy, where more than a dozen veterans over three years died after an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease.

“It’s a shameful neglect of our veterans who we should be standing up for every single day,” the Democrat said.

Pritzker initially would not agree to any other debates outside of Chicago but agreed to debate in Quincy after questions were raised about Rauner’s handling of the outbreak. The crowd was audibly rowdier, applauding at well-delivered lines and laughing at non-answers they’d likely heard more than once in recent weeks.

Democrats attacked Rauner on all flanks in the hours before the debate, staging protests outside the site of the debate and running ads profiling the family of one of the victims of the Legionnaires’ disease outbreak.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, who isn’t running for re-election, announced that her office had opened a criminal investigation into whether anyone in Rauner’s administration broke the law responding to the outbreak at the Quincy veterans’ home.

Asked about the criminal probe, Rauner said that there was no delay and that action was taken immediately. Emails obtained by public radio stations have raised questions about that claim.

For his part, Rauner has been attacking Pritzker with a barrage of ads and news conferences featuring Republican allies across the state asking for a formal investigation into Pritzker’s $330,000 property tax dodge facilitated by the removal of toilets and other fixtures from a Chicago mansion he bought next to one he lives in.

A watchdog report from Cook County found Pritzker and others engaged in a “scheme to defraud” the assessor’s office.

“Four of my nine predecessors as governor went to jail. Mr. Pritzker has a very good chance of being number five,” Rauner said.

As in addition to new gambling revenue and tax dollars from legalization of marijuana, Pritzker said he would rely on his proposed progressive income tax to solve Illinois’ multi-billion dollar backlog of bills and invest in projects.

He was pressed by a moderator for repeatedly refusing to provide any details about the rates for different income levels in his tax plan.

“This is your chance, tonight, the last debate. Can you give us a rate?” moderator Gene Kennedy asked.

“Let me tell you this, we want to make sure we’re negotiating it with the people of the legislature,” Pritzker said.

A progressive tax, one that would tax earnings above certain thresholds at higher rates, would require a constitutional amendment to be first passed through the General Assembly and then approved by a majority of voters.

Rauner said a progressive tax would result in a tax hike for nearly every taxpayer in the state.

“Mr. Pritzker won’t answer the question because he knows the middle class is going to get crushed,” he said, suggesting that he would be able to save $6 billion in reforms and streamlining in government and eventually lower taxes.

On the topic of education, Rauner said he worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass a sweeping school funding formula change that puts more state funds into districts that need the money. He pointed out that Democrats cut state funding in the years where they had control of the state.

“In that ten years, state support for education was cut four times,” he said.

Pritzker accused of Rauner fighting the school funding formula reform, attributing the reform Democrats with the change.

Libertarian Kash Jackson and Conservative Sam McCann, who’s facing criticism for allegedly being a union-funded plant to sap votes from the socially-moderate Republican governor, were not invited to the debate. McCann says many voters in the unions primarily funding his campaign are conservatives upset with Rauner’s actions in his first term.

[This story is from Illinois Radio Network News.]