05/11/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

AG Madigan Questions Income Tax Hike, Previews Governor Race Theme

Attorney General Lisa Madigan is raising questions about the income tax increase proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn, her potential opponent in next year's gubernatorial race, the Associated Press reported.

Quinn has pitched an income tax hike as part of his plan to plug the state's $11.5 billion budget deficit.

From the AP:

Madigan says tough economic times makes it "very difficult" to up the tax burden on Illinois residents and says the state budget should be cut before the state considers an income tax increase.

Madigan and Quinn spoke to reporters after an unrelated Friday news conference.

Quinn has proposed a 50 percent increase in the income tax rate to help cover the deficit that he says is too big to be erased through budget cuts.

Madigan's father is the powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and he has enormous sway over whether Quinn's proposed income tax increase goes anywhere.

Friday was not the first time Madigan has cast doubt on Quinn's tax hike proposal. In early March, Madigan told the Aurora Beacon News that "I think this economy makes it almost impossible to place an income tax increase on people."

Progress Illinois' Josh Kalven noted at the time that Madigan's words meant "the first battle line is drawn" in the 2010 gubernatorial race. Though other politicians have expressed support for Quinn's plan, with Sen. Durbin saying Quinn 'has no choice' in the face of the state's massive deficit, Madigan appears to be staking out her opposition in advance of a possible run against the governor.

The potential rivals were amicable at Friday's joint news conference, according to Chicago Public Radio's Mike Rhee. Asked about Quinn's performance, Madigan said "things are going much better" compared to under Blagojevich, while Quinn said both he and Madigan believe in working for the common good.

Their appearance came a day after each testified at a hearing of the Illinois Reform Commission, which Quinn created to help clean up government in the wake of the Blagojevich scandal. Quinn urged the commission to adopt campaign finance limits and-- in a statement that raised eyebrows given his less than stellar fundraising record-- suggested that candidates donate their existing campaign funds to charity to create a level playing field for next year's election.

Quinn had $83,512 in his campaign fund at the end of the year, while Madigan had almost $3.5 million.

UPDATE: In a radio interview scheduled to air Sunday on WBBM, Quinn said that he is open to potential property tax breaks that could help soften the blow of his proposed income tax hike, the Daily Herald reported.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill Brady ripped Quinn's tax hike plan, while potential Democratic challenger, state comptroller Dan Hynes, declined to comment, according to the AP.

The full article from the AP's Deanna Bellandi:

The next gubernatorial election is more than 18 months away, but Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed income tax increase is already a rallying point for potential challengers, including Attorney General Lisa Madigan who said Friday that tough economic times make it difficult to ask Illinois residents for more money.

"Before we even consider an income tax increase, we, as leaders in state government, have to show the people of the state of Illinois that we're cutting back the state budget, that we're using their money responsibly, that we are going to find savings," Madigan said.

Madigan talked about Quinn's tax proposal with the governor standing alongside her because they had just wrapped up a press conference where Quinn signed a consumer protection law that Madigan backed.

Quinn has proposed a 50 percent increase in the income tax rate to help fill an $11.5 billion deficit that he says is too big to erase through budget cuts.

The Chicago Democrat has called his plan - no matter how unpopular - the kind of honest government Illinois needs in the wake of the Rod Blagojevich scandal and at a time when the state faces its worst fiscal crisis.

"If you're the governor, you've got to have a balanced budget and I take that oath responsibly. I think you've got to pay the bills. We've got to have honest leadership in Illinois. We can't pretend that we can walk away from $11 billion of debt," he said.

Quinn wants to soften the blow with higher personal exemptions that would especially reduce the impact on poor and working class families.

Republican gubernatorial hopeful Bill Brady doesn't mince words when it comes to describing how he feels about Quinn's tax proposal, calling it "horrific" and "terrible."

"Economically speaking, his tax increase will cost Illinois families and jobs," said Brady, a state senator from Bloomington.

Federal stimulus money and other measures to save money, such as reining in costs for Medicaid and state employee and retiree health care benefits, could help fix the state's budget problems, Brady said.

"You can do it all through cuts," Brady said. "Is it going to be easy? No."

Another possible candidate for governor, Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes, did not want to comment on Quinn's tax plan, his spokesman Alan Henry said.

Quinn defended himself Friday, saying his plan includes $1.3 billion in cuts and a Taxpayer Action Board to review state government from top to bottom to look for ways to save money.

"I look forward to anyone providing ideas on how to cut the budget in a responsible way," Quinn said.

Quinn has labeled massive cuts that would gut the budget as "mean-spirited tactics." He has said his plan saves services for the poor, the elderly, veterans and more.

Madigan did not offer specifics Friday about how she would fix the state's budget mess but she said she and others were working with the governor's office because more needs to be done, including small cuts that would show the state is acting responsibly.

"We have to do all of the cuts and determine what we can eliminate from the state budget before we can ask people to give us more money," she said.

Madigan's father is the powerful Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan and he has enormous sway over whether Quinn's proposed income tax increase goes anywhere.

The attorney general said she had not had a formal discussion with her father about Quinn's tax proposal.

"I think it is very, very difficult to ask people to give the state more money when families themselves are struggling and they've seen a reduction in their family incomes, it's just that simple," Lisa Madigan said.