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Quinn has best plan to serve all Illinoisans

One man lives in the real world, the other lives in an ideological box that shuts out real people and real pain.

One man has a workable plan for Illinois, the other has a sham of a plan that will never add up.

One man is committed to making Illinois a more pro-business state while at the same time preserving services for the most needy people among us -- the mentally ill, the elderly and schoolchildren.

The other wants to create a more pro-business climate, too, but disproportionately at the expense of those same powerless people.

In the Nov. 2 election for governor, the Sun-Times endorses that first man -- incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn.

Though he has been governor for less than two years, stepping into the breach after Rod Blagojevich was removed from office, Quinn can claim considerable accomplishments and has shown real courage.

Since taking office in January 2009, Quinn has twice stepped up to do the job of a cowardly state Legislature, signing off on $3 billion in budget cuts. He has lowered Medicaid and future pension costs. It was House Speaker Mike Madigan who rammed reduced pension benefits for new hires through the Legislature last spring, but it was Quinn who pushed that reform all along.

Most courageously, Quinn has been forthright in calling for a state income tax increase to assure that Illinois remains a humane state that invests in its future. Quinn's main opponent, Republican state Sen. Bill Brady, can insist until the cows come home that a tax increase is unnecessary, but he is simply wrong.

Brady says he would cut "a dime on a dollar" in state spending to wipe out a $9.3 billion deficit , but that wouldn't come close to fixing this mess. Though the state's total operating budget is about $52 billion, the General Assembly controls only $25 billion of that -- the general funds budget. The rest is federal dollars and state revenue that can be used only for specific purposes, such as the road fund.

Brady, then, would have to find $9 billion in savings in a $25 billion budget. And that looks more like "forty cents on a dollar."

State funding to schools would be slashed, resulting in layoffs and bigger class sizes. Funding to universities would be hammered, reducing a fine system of higher education to second-class status. Even if Brady could wrest greater savings from the Medicaid and pension systems, group homes for troubled teens would be closed.

Brady claims his plan would result in a more stable business environment, leading quickly to hundreds of thousands of new jobs, leading in turn to higher total tax revenues. That strikes us as an appallingly rosy projection, backed up by zero analysis, as the nation climbs out of a recession.

We have our own reservations about Quinn. He can be maddeningly undisciplined, fumbling even the most sensitive issues, such as his botched early prison release program. And he has yet to find a way to check Madigan's power.

We'd like to see the governor demand even larger concessions from the state's main employee union and find greater Medicaid savings. We'd like to see more cuts in ineffective and duplicative programs. We'd like to see greater pension reform, with employees contributing more. And we'd like to see more ethics reforms, such as a cap on how much money party leaders can donate to candidates in general elections.

But if Illinois voters are looking for a governor who is both pro-business and pro-people, Pat Quinn is the easy call.