Former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar said Thursday his party's candidate for governor is wrong on Illinois' budget crisis and made the case for hiking taxes - the main plank of Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn's platform.
"There is no easy way out of the mess we are in," Edgar told about 200 people in a speech on leadership at Elmhurst College. "I give Governor Quinn credit for having the courage to call for a tax increase in an election year."
Edgar said he believed that state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington is sincere in his pledge not to raise taxes, but ultimately he will find there is no other way out of the state's $13 billion-and-growing shortfall.
"I don't think he can get by, if you are going to solve this, without a tax increase," said Edgar, who was governor for two terms and secretary of state. "But I do think he really believes it as opposed to just thinking he has to say that to get elected."
Asked after the speech if Brady's budget plans - cutting taxes and services to balance the budget - were realistic, Edgar said Brady needs to "flush out his budget policies" more.
Edgar has previously called Brady's plan for a 10 percent across-the-board cut "naive," which he conceded Thursday led to angry calls from Brady backers.
"I know that upsets their camp when I say that," Edgar said to laughter from the students, teachers and residents.
Edgar, though, didn't heap praise on Quinn. He chided him for frequent flip-flops and said he needs to cut more out of the state budget, including cuts to sensitive health care programs and perhaps even to education.
"Before he says something," Edgar said, "he has to think things through."
However, Edgar's comments potentially provide material for Quinn as he seeks to persuade lawmakers to support a tax increase at the same time he asks voters to put him in the governor's office for a full term.
Brady's campaign issued a statement late Thursday saying the candidate agreed with Edgar's call for more budget cuts but asserted the shortfall could be closed by spending reductions alone.
Quinn is proposing a $1.3 billion cut in education spending that has led to a wave of teacher layoff notices across the state and strengthened the push for a tax increase. Quinn wants a 1 percentage point increase in the state's income tax rate to 4 percent.
Yet, even that won't completely solve the budget mess and the state would still rely on paying bills months late and borrowing billions of dollars. The tax increase hasn't been warmly received by lawmakers facing re-election Nov. 2.
Edgar ran for governor in 1990 on a pledge to extend an income tax hike against a Democrat who pledged to let the increase expire. He won and then quickly worked to cut spending in numerous popular programs, including health care and welfare.
Still, voters didn't hate him. He won a second term in 1994. He chose not to seek a third term in 1998. In the recent Republican primary, he backed one of Brady's rivals, Hinsdale Republican state Sen. Kirk Dillard. Brady beat Dillard by the razor-thin margin of less than 200 votes. Dillard wouldn't rule out a tax hike on the campaign trail.
In a reflection that could play into today's race for governor, Edgar recalled how his campaign staff advised him against supporting extending the income tax hike because it didn't poll well. But he pointed out polls showed voters trusted him more, "because nobody believes you are going to cut a tax."
Edgar also asked those in attendance to put pressure on lawmakers and candidates to back a tax hike. An increase in the income tax coupled with exemptions would be a logical rout, he said.
"We are going to need additional revenue and it is not going to be easy," Edgar said. "But it is going to have to happen."