The seven GOP candidates for governor steadfastly maintained Wednesday that they can balance a state budget, now estimated to have an $11 billion hole, without raising taxes. In sessions before the State Journal-Register editorial board, the seven were vague about how filling that hole without more revenue will affect state employment. Here is a look at some of the issues covered by the meetings.

The seven GOP candidates for governor steadfastly maintain that they can balance a state budget, now estimated to have an $11 billion hole, without raising taxes.


In sessions Wednesday before the State Journal-Register editorial board, the seven were vague about how filling that hole without more revenue will affect state employment. Here is a look at some of the issues covered by the meetings.


Taxes


Both Gov. Pat Quinn and Comptroller Dan Hynes – the two Democrats running for governor – said a state income tax hike is necessary to balance the budget.


All seven Republican candidates said that is not the case and most ruled it out even as a measure of last resort should other budget balancing efforts fail.


"I would not raise taxes, period," said former state Republican Party chairman Andy McKenna, saying that prohibition extends to fee hikes.


Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, said he doesn't support tax hikes, but said state fees might have to be adjusted from time to time. He also said "tax policies" might be reviewed to make them more fair after the state's financial situation stabilizes. Dillard said he does not support a graduated income tax.


Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, wants to cut business fees in many cases to make Illinois more competitive with neighboring states. He also wants to eliminate the state sales tax on gasoline, a tax levied in addition to the gasoline tax.


Hinsdale businessman Adam Andrzejewski said he would have vetoed the capital bill passed last year because it was financed with higher fees.


Former Illinois Attorney General Jim Ryan has been criticized for not signing a no-tax-hike pledge as other Republicans have done.


"I'm opposed to (higher) taxes," Ryan said. "I didn't sign the pledge, but I am making it to you."


Raising taxes is tantamount to singing a "death warrant" for the state, commentator Dan Proft said. Not only is he opposed to raising taxes, but wants to cut the income tax in half. Proft acknowledged that will exacerbate the state's financial problems until his predicted economic recovery takes effect.


"You have to have someone come in who can say no," said DuPage County Board Chairman Robert Schillerstrom. "It's absolutely wrong to raise taxes at this time. If Quinn raises taxes we'll be in this same situation in two years."


Budget cuts and layoffs


Ryan reiterated that he wants to convene a panel of experts to review state finances and recommend areas for savings.


"There's no question there will be deep cuts," Ryan said. "You can't close the gap in one year."


Ryan wouldn't rule out layoffs, but didn't spell out how many might be needed.


"I think we are past the time for task forces," Schillerstrom said. However, he said a detailed accounting of cuts would have to wait.


"No one can give you a credible answer in how to fill a $10 billion (deficit)," Schillerstrom said.


Brady said he will cut spending 10 percent across the board, using $55 billion as a base for the budget. That figure includes money the state receives from the federal government. He wants to eliminate the state Board of Education and replace it with a different entity, eliminating about 100 jobs along the way.


Andrzejewski called that approach irresponsible while Dillard called it "sophomoric."


"Across the board cuts are a lazy man's way out," Dillard said.


Dillard outlined a series of proposals, ranging from Medicaid reforms and better management techniques to means-testing free bus rides for seniors, that added up to roughly $5 billion to $6 billion. He said layoffs can be avoided.


McKenna wants to roll back state spending to 2006 levels. Future budget growth would be tied to inflation and population growth. He said state jobs should be returned to Springfield, but did not discuss headcount reductions.


Andrzejewski said he would spend $60 million conducting forensic audits of state agencies to look for waste.


"If an agency is not performing its mission, I will zero it out," he said. For starters, he will eliminate the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.


Proft said the state should not be involved in gambling and said he would try to roll back the recently approved video poker law and sell the Illinois lottery. Riverboats and horse racing would be allowed to stay, he said.


"All things have to be on the table," Schillerstrom said, adding that he's "sure there will be some layoffs."


Democratic legislature


Democrats control both the House and Senate and most political observers don't think that will change in 2010.


That doesn't include Brady, however.


"I believe we will take back control of the House," Brady said, pointing to the Republican victory in the Massachusetts special election Tuesday.


Andrzejewski said he will take a "peace through strength" approach, starting with a thorough audit of House Speaker Michael Madigan's budget for his chamber.


Dillard said he already has experience working with Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, giving him an edge in getting his programs accepted. He, too, said Republicans can make gains in the House eroding Madigan's power.


Ryan said he would take his message to a public that will "finally be fed up" with Madigan's control of the legislative process. Proft was more direct.


"What is necessary is to take a bicycle chain to the playground with Mike Madigan and John Cullerton," he said. "These guys need to be told that state government is not about them."


Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.