This is simple.
Governor Pat Quinn won the election. But he won no mandate to raise the Illinois income tax.
Quinn beat State Senator Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) because liberal and moderate voters in Chicago and suburbs were turned off by Brady's right wing positions on social issues, such as abortion and gay rights. Quinn and key allies, like Personal PAC, battered Brady bloody in direct mail and in TV ad on these social issues.
However, neither Quinn nor his allies trumpeted the governor's plan to hike the Illinois income tax rate from 3% to 4%. When confronted by reporters in debates, Quinn retreated to pleasant-sounding "investment in education" rhetoric by way of explaining his tax position.
He survived the election in spite of this tax hike pledge, not because of it.
Still, fresh from victory, the governor is now claiming that the election gave him a mandate to raise the Illinois income tax. In addition, he wants the Illinois General Assembly to approve an increase in the fall veto session, which will be full of dead-duck lawmakers, in a couple of weeks.
"I think our message of investing in education was supported by the people," Quinn told the Chicago Tribune's Rick Pearson and Monique Garcia for a story published four days after the election. "I think that is a really strong mandate that I got. I know from the campaign, people made that pretty clear to me, and I think the election returns said the same thing."
On October 18, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute released a survey of 1,000 Illinois voters and questioned them on Quinn's latest tax hike plan -- and the results revealed that voters clearly rejected the proposal 56.2% to 40.9%.
In fact, Quinn's base -- the City of Chicago -- opposes the tax increase more than the suburbs or Northern and Central Illinois. Chicago voters oppose the increase 56.8% to 38.3%, compared to suburban voters who reject the measure 55.3% to 42.0%, and northern and central voters, 54.3% to 43.2%. Only Southern Illinois opposes Quinn's plan more, 62.8% to 35.5%.
African Americans, who gave Quinn 91% of votes, oppose the tax hike more than whites, 56.0% - 39.6% to 55.8% - 41.4%, respectively. Hispanics, who backed the governor with 64% of their vote, reject his tax proposal even more, 56.5% to 43.5% in favor.
There was no dramatic about-face on the tax issue on election day. Social issues won it for Quinn. Period.
The lack of mandate in no way mitigates the need for an income tax increase. Illinois unquestionably needs the dough to help plug a $13 billion budget hole. However, it means that the Illinois General Assembly approves a tax hike in the near future only at the political peril of adding to the dead-luck lawmaker body count in the 2012 elections.
Instead of pushing for an income tax increase in the next couple of weeks, Quinn should spend at least the next two years cultivating public opinion to produce a genuine mandate, and then go for it. But not a millisecond sooner.
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