CHICAGO, (Illinois News Network) -- Gov. Bruce Rauner clashed with Democrat J.B. Pritzker in the first televised debate of an increasingly expensive Illinois gubernatorial race along with two third-party candidates vying for a chance to get their message out to voters.
The state’s candidates for chief executive argued their case Thursday evening on NBC 5 and Telemundo Chicago. NBC 5 Political Editor Carol Marin put tough questions to each. Pritzker was asked about removing his toilets in his house for a tax break while Rauner was pressed on his comments about not being in charge of the state.
Rauner, the first-term Republican who is seen as the most vulnerable governor in America, was quick to blame House Speaker Michael Madigan for blocking his agenda through a stranglehold on Illinois politics.
Pritzker has taken criticism for his ambiguity during the campaign, refusing to give any details about how much more the wealthy would be taxed and who the billionaire considered wealthy for that matter.
The Chicago billionaire stuck to that script Thursday, promising investment in infrastructure, higher education and other projects while also lowering property taxes and income tax for middle-class Illinoisans. He said that it’s all possible by changing Illinois’ constitution to allow for a progressive income tax.
“Illinois has the most unfair tax system in the entire nation,” Pritzker said. “We need to ask the wealthiest people like Bruce Rauner and me to pay a higher rate and we need to provide a tax cut for middle-class families and those who are striving to get there and lower local property taxes.”
Marin tried several times to get Pritzker to talk about the rates he envisions for the graduated tax. Pritzker wouldn't talk numbers. Rauner pounced on Pritzker’s ambiguity.
“Mr. Pritzker is dodging your question because he doesn’t want to tell the truth to the people of Illinois,” he said. “He is proposing a massive new income tax hike on all the people of our state. He doesn’t want to talk about it because the truth is so painfully unpopular.”
Rauner said the state cannot tax its way out of existing fiscal and economic realities. The governor took criticism from all three other candidates for his role in the state’s historic two-year budget stalemate that shuttered social service providers and hobbled the state’s higher education institutions.
The candidates were asked what they would do to stem the tide of outmigration that’s struck Illinois in recent years. Pritzker said the state should invest more in schools, convincing students to attend and stay in the state. Rauner said the state needs to lower the tax burden on people and business.
“The challenge is lack of economic opportunity,” Rauner said. “That comes from a broken system of deficit spending and, to cover it up, higher and higher taxes.
Marin asked the union-backed Pritzker about Chicago hotel workers who are on strike, many of them from Hyatt group hotels. Pritzker's family founded and manages the hotel chain. He said he doesn’t have a say in the management of the hotel chain. He took criticism for that and anti-union actions by other companies he has an interest in.
Both Conservative Sam McCann and Libertarian Kash Jackson took shots at the front-runners.
There was a heated exchange between McCann and Rauner after the governor accused the state senator of acting as the spoiler at the behest of Madigan.
Jackson had a couple memorable one-liners about not only the big-government philosophies of both of the state’s major party candidates but also the protectionism against third-party candidates and the amount of spending that Rauner and Pritzker have spent on the campaign.
“I spent $25,000,” he said. “You two gentlemen spent $200 million to get on this stage. Who’s the fiscally-minded guy?”
The election is Nov. 6.