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Brady Says He Won't Raise Taxes, But Can't Specify What He Could Cut To Balance State Budget

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CHICAGO — If chosen to lead the state of Illinois, Bill Brady isn't sure whether he would cut health services expanded by previous governors. He can't specify any sacrifices residents will have to make if the state is going to solve its budget crisis. And he doesn't know who would work in his administration.

But the Republican candidate for governor is absolutely sure of one thing: He would never raise taxes of any sort.

In an interview Thursday with The Associated Press, Brady absolutely ruled out increasing taxes if he becomes governor and has to deal with the worst fiscal crisis in state history. And he portrayed himself as so focused on jobs and the budget that he would set aside efforts to promote his positions on virtually all other issues.

The conservative state senator from Bloomington said he won't try to rewrite Illinois law to reflect his views on abortion, gun control and other social issues.

"Our agenda's been economic," said Brady, a 49-year-old real estate developer. Social issues, he said, "are not driving forces and we don't see them as being a driving force in this election."

But Brady left himself room to maneuver by saying his beliefs would determine how he handles legislation that reaches his desk.

He said he would veto legislation allowing gay couples to establish civil unions and sign a bill letting people carry concealed handguns. He also wants a long-stalled parental notification law for abortions enforced.

Brady also stood by his 2004 vote against protecting gay people from being fired or tossed out of their homes over their sexual orientation.

"I don't think we should have special legislation," he said. That measure did pass, and Illinois bars discrimination based on sexual orientation, along with race and religion.

Not raising taxes is the one thing Brady talks about with certainty. He said the only new revenues in his administration would come from economic growth – no tax or fee increases, period.

But Brady insists he's not creating a "read my lips" moment like President George Bush did before being elected in 1988. Bush wound up breaking his promise not to raise taxes.

"I believe that we have reached a point where increasing tax rates will push economic activity outside of the state. And so in our case, the size and scope of government has grown beyond the private sector's ability to fund and afford," he said.

Brady maintains that he won't change his mind on taxes, although Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn predicts Brady will if he wins Nov. 2.

Quinn has proposed a 1 percentage point increase in the state income tax – from 3 percent to 4 percent – for education.

Brady favors term limits and says it's bad when lawmakers are in power too long, but that philosophy didn't extend to the Legislature's GOP leaders.

Brady continued to duck questions about specific spending cuts. And he avoided talking about any painful sacrifice from such cuts, preferring to use businesslike phrases such as finding "efficiency" and "retooling."

He won't take a firm position on changing eligibility or cutting the children's health services that grew under ousted Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"You have to drill down to where your resources meet what you have in terms of need," he said. "The maneuvering of that to bring income and expenses into balance will require some adjustments."

He also said he favors moving to a 401(k)-style retirement plan for state employees instead of the traditional pension plan they have now.

Brady said about $45 billion of the state budget would fall under his promise to cut "a dime in every dollar," which suggests a goal of saving roughly $4.5 billion. But much of that budget total is federal money or other special funds that don't affect the state's massive $13 billion deficit.

The part of the budget where cuts would actually reduce the deficit is closer to $26 billion. If Brady were to reach his savings goal by cutting that part, he'd have to slash services about 17 percent, not the 10 percent he has repeatedly cited.

That would come close to balancing how much Illinois spends and how much it takes in each year. But it would not pay the billions of dollars in overdue bills that have already built up.

This election, Brady said, is a referendum on a tax increase. If he wins and Democrats still control the Legislature, he thinks Democrats are wise enough to listen to the voters and not try to raise taxes.

If Quinn wins, Brady said an argument could be made that people realize their need to pay higher taxes. Even if that happens, Brady won't vote in the state Senate for a tax increase.

"It's a hypothetical that I don't intend to have to deal with," he said.