A year ago, when the governorship was thrust upon Democrat Pat Quinn in times of historic duress, we knew the task before him was enormous. We also knew he would have the best chance anyone has had to fix the state's financial and ethical deficits. Having valued his work as a needed thorn in the establishment's side, we had high hopes he would breathe fresh sensibility into state politics.
Instead, time and again, Quinn has shown he lacks the capacity to lead a state so burdened. In a bizarrely unfocused State of the State speech Wednesday, Quinn said, "We have to have a governor who has a plan and sees the future." We agree. In the Democratic primary, Comptroller Dan Hynes clearly is the candidate who best fits that charge.
After years of irresponsible acts from both parties, Illinois faces fiscal calamity with a debt of at least $12 billion. Quinn, 61, last year offered three different plans to raise income taxes and all failed to win support. Now he offers no details, other than that more revenue is needed. In his decade as comptroller, Hynes, 41, long has sounded the alarm about our spiraling debt and borrowing addiction. While we don't agree with all of Hynes' plans, particularly casino expansion, he has laid out specifics. They include $1.5 billion in spending cuts, firing some workers hired by former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, increasing cigarette and gambling taxes and closing corporate tax loopholes. He also wants to put a referendum on the fall ballot for a progressive income tax.
Quinn promotes himself as the reformist governor. He and legislators did make significant improvements in some corrupt systems last year, but there is much more to be done and we lack faith in Quinn. He created the Illinois Reform Commission last year and then hung its members out to dry. No one around him seemed to know how to help the volunteers draft legislation. In his first key test, Quinn caved, cut a craven political deal with House Speaker Michael J. Madigan to help his own primary chances and called a fatally flawed campaign donation bill "landmark." Later, he was persuaded to veto it and had nine weeks to do better, but he disappeared. Quinn never banged the drum like he did for decades. He abandoned the bully pulpit. He never demanded negotiating be done in the open.
Hynes supports closing the hole that puts donor limits on everyone but legislative leaders and parties. He wants more lobbying disclosure and changes that would allow more rank-and-file legislators' plans to get hearings and votes in Springfield. His commitment to winning ethics changes Madigan does not support will be a key test of his independence.
Quinn also has shown a disappointing habit of refusing to remove those who he says are insubordinate. Instead, he applies Band-Aids by creating more boards and hiring people at six-figure salaries.
And the self-proclaimed "open governor" still hasn't done anything to make his juvenile justice managers comply with our months-old requests for information about a St. Charles youth prison suicide.
Illinois' other crisis is its $80 billion unfunded pension liability. Here, Hynes correctly says pension double-dipping and sweetening must end. He hasn't committed to a two-tier system because he worries it might actually cost taxpayers more. We call on Hynes to address this problem in detail.
Quinn is a decent public servant, but he has shown a propensity to do the political thing. Too often, he seems lost. Hynes is a budget wonk and pragmatist more in the mold of former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar. We endorse Hynes as the much stronger manager and leader for the Democrats. He sees the problems and has a detailed plan.