From the moment Governor Pat Quinn's interview started on Monday's "Chicago Tonight," he knew it wasn't going to be easy.
"Governor Quinn, welcome back to 'Chicago Tonight' ", said host Phil Ponce. "Very glad to be here," said the governor. "The firing line."
Indeed, Ponce and his colleague Carol Marin dogged Quinn for a full 20 minutes, especially on the topic of his recently-announced budget. The governor's plan includes a $1.3 billion cut in education funding, which he himself says he strongly opposes. It could be replaced by what he repeatedly described as a "1 percent surcharge for education" -- by which he means an increase in the income tax rate from 3 percent to 4 percent.
Some critics say that Quinn is playing political brinksmanship with the education budget, using the threat of massive and unpopular cuts to generate support for a tax increase. Marin echoed these concerns, telling the governor, "They're saying, a), Quinn picked education because it's an emotional stalking-horse."
Ponce was more direct, saying, "The $1.3 billion (in cuts) you're proposing -- no one believes you, Governor."
The interviewers also argued that there wasn't enough legislative support for the tax increase.
"The legislative leaders -- (Senate President John) Cullerton, (House Speaker Michael) Madigan, (Senate Minority Leader Christine) Radogno and (House Minority Leader Tom) Cross the Republicans -- they all say 'no' to this," Marin said.
Quinn's curtly replied, "Well, they're wrong."
Quinn used the interview as another opportunity to frame the budget debate his way. He said he had made a sensible proposal with the tax increase, and if the legislature would not pass it, the massive education cuts that followed would be its fault, not his.
"If the tax plan doesn't happen," asked Ponce, "What is your 'Plan B'?"
"The Plan B is the legislators have to deal with the cuts in education," Quinn said. "If they don't want to vote for a reasonable revenue package -- 1 percent surcharge for education, that's very reasonable, I think, given our crisis."
But, as Ponce and Marin kept insisting, there isn't much legislative support the "surcharge." After Quinn announced the package, Speaker Madigan applauded the governor's courage, but said the people of Illinois "don't want to hear about tax increases."
Certainly, no one wants to talk about them in an election year. But the budget crisis may be leaving Quinn and the state legislature little alternative.
Watch the "Chicago Tonight" interview: