QUINCY, Ill. (WREX) — On Thursday, candidates vying for Illinois governor faced off in a final debate before November’s election at a community theatre in Quincy, Ill., the site of a deadly Legionnaire’s outbreak at a veterans home.
That scandal, and a question about it, kicked off the questions brought by a panel of anchors in the Quincy Media, Inc., broadcast company, including 13 WREX anchor James Stratton.
Incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic candidate JB Pritzker traded jabs, insults and interruptions in between answering questions about the Legionnaire’s scandal alleged tax fraud by Pritzker, school funding, gun violence and population loss.
Rauner said the country’s veterans are our heroes, and called that deadly outbreak in Quincy “a tragedy.” Rauner says his administration took immediate actions to monitor veterans’ health, remediate the problem and communicate with families.
“I’m sorry for your loss. It is deeply painful. I pledge to you that we will continue to do everything we can to keep our veterans safe,” Rauner said.
Pritzker, meanwhile, said Rauner did not do enough to keep veterans safe.
“As a result of his failures in his fatal mismanagement he is now under a criminal probe. It is a shameful neglect of our veterans who we should be standing up for every day,” Pritzker said.
Rauner quickly turned his attention to alleged tax fraud by Pritzker, saying Pritzker was involved in tax fraud, mail fraud and perjury. Rauner called Pritzker a white collar criminal, and said he thinks Pritzker is destined for jail time.
Pritzker called the accusations a “desperate rant by a failed governor who is in his final campaign.”
In an attempt to get back to the issues, Doug Wilson of the Quincy Herald-Whig asked about healing the state’s finances and an infrastructure spending plan, noting few details have been released about where money would come from.
Pritzker said lowering expenditures, raising revenue and growing the economy are key ways to balance the state’s budget. His answer quickly turned to a pledge to invest in early childhood education, saying that will lower the cost of K-12 education by preparing kids better for schooling. He also says he’ll propose legalizing marijuana and consider bringing sports betting to the state. Pritzker also says expanding gaming in the state could lead to increased revenues for state spending plans.
In his response, Rauner said he will grow jobs by cutting taxes and regulatory burdens on businesses. He also says public and private partnerships are key to funding infrastructure projects along with federal funding support.
13 WREX anchor James Stratton took the next question, asking what candidates would do to stop population loss, especially among young people.
While neither candidate specifically answered the question, Rauner said people are fleeing to Indiana for lower taxes, reasonable regulations and a booming manufacturing industry.
“We are hostile on taxes and regulations,” Rauner said. He continued, “We need to cut the taxes, reform our state government and reduce the regulatory burden on our businesses and end the corruption that Pritzker is part of.”
Pritzker did not use his response time to answer the question.
The next question was concerning taxes, and over how much a teacher in Peoria, making $51,000 per year, would make.
Pritzker said that teacher should get a tax break and use that money to buy things to stimulate the economy. However, when pressed multiple times on what a tax rate would look like, he did not answer. Instead, he said this was an issue that needed to be negotiated with the state’s General Assembly. When asked again by the moderator to ballpark estimate a tax rate, Pritzker did not answer.
Rauner used his response time to slam Pritzker, pointing to alleged tax fraud and saying Pritzker’s plan would crush the middle class.
When it comes to funding in schools, Pritzker said funding is done wrong in Illinois. He said he has plans to address that, while also building up community colleges and vocational training programs, as well as making college more affordable.
“Those are all things we can get done by changing the funding formula to schools and lowering our property taxes,” he said.
Meanwhile, Rauner defended his record.
Rauner says in the past 10 years before he took office, funding for schools was cut four times.
“I became governor, I created a bipartisan tax force, and we now have $1.4 billion more every year from the state to our local schools.”
Pritzker interrupted Rauner, who paused his answer to say “If you’re going to interrupt, be careful about the perjury.” The remarks were met with scolding by the moderator, who asked both men to follow the rules.
Candidates were also asked by 13 WREX news anchor James Stratton if they would work to bring passenger rail to areas like Rockford, the Quad Cities and other communities downstate.
Pritzker said he believed in the investment with help from federal funding, something he says it critical to the project happening. Meanwhile, Rauner did not answer the question in his response.
The candidates were later asked what they would do about gun violence, something Rauner says will decrease if employment increases. Rauner says there is also a cyclical problem that can be traced to illegal immigration, saying illegal immigrants take jobs away from Illinois citizens, noting again that unemployment breeds violence.
Pritzker says the state’s longstanding budget stalemate forced cuts in the state’s mental health services and jobs resources, which lead to an increase in violence.
“We need to address the core issue of jobs and we need to address the core issues of the budget because those are the things people need and we can avoid gun violence,” Pritzker said.
13 WREX exclusively aired the debate in the Rockford market and has exclusive rights to online coverage.