Green Party Candidate Defends Big Government

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Byline: Deanna Bellandi and Christopher Wills Associated Press

Rich Whitney makes no apologies for believing in big government and higher taxes.

The Green Party candidate for governor told The Associated Press on Monday that Illinois has been moving toward smaller government and that it has led to dangerously overcrowded prisons, less care for the mentally ill, higher college tuitions and furlough days for state employees.

"You know, for all the people that have been saying for years 'small government, small government, small government,' hey, you're getting it," Whitney said. "It's getting smaller right now. How do you like it?"

The Carbondale attorney said Illinois, which is struggling with a record $13 billion deficit, could afford to pay for much-needed government services if it overhauled its tax system by imposing a sizable bump in the state income tax, a new tax on complex financial transactions and fees for pollution, among other things.

In two or three years, he said, the budget would be balanced and Illinois could offer free college tuition, which Whitney estimates would cost almost $4 billion annually.

"It's something I think we can afford, and I think we have to afford it," he said.

If elected, Whitney said he would turn to liberal advocacy groups to find aides and agency directors. Someone from the Sierra Club, for instance, might be named to run the Environmental Protection Agency.

He also defended his proposal to legalize marijuana but said it was not a centerpiece of his campaign. A former socialist who left the Socialist Workers Party in the 1990s, Whitney said he has come to see that there are "good aspects" to free enterprise.

Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn has pushed to raise the state income tax to help rescue the state's finances, but lawmakers haven't signed on. Quinn's latest proposal was a 1 percentage point increase -- from 3 percent to 4 percent -- to help generate money for education.

Whitney would raise the personal income tax rate to 5 percent while protecting poorer families by offering bigger tax credits. He said homeowners also would get property tax relief through larger exemptions on their income taxes.

He said he would also impose a financial transactions tax on speculation, such as derivatives trading. …