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Will Quinn advocate keeping the income tax hike? Aide won't say

Gov. Pat Quinn is playing the cards extremely close to the vest when it comes to how he intends to answer the billion-dollar (plus) question in his budget address Wednesday: Will he or won’t he advocate for extending the temporary income tax increase that is due to roll back in January?

“I can’t answer that directly,” Quinn spokeswoman David Blanchette said as he made the rounds of offices in the statehouse pressroom early Tuesday afternoon. “You’ll have to wait until you hear the budget.”

For months, Quinn has ducked that question because, politically, it’s the equivalent of touching the third rail during what promises to be a tight re-election bid.

As the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute showed Monday, only 27 percent of Illinoisans want the existing 5-percent income tax on individuals to stay in place.

And Quinn’s GOP rival, Bruce Rauner, has called for rolling back the tax to its 2011 levels. It’s such a highly sensitive question that Quinn’s administration has imposed a virtual blackout on details of his FY2015 budget proposal, ditching the traditional night-before budget briefing that reporters have been given dating back at least to the days of Jim Edgar.

That briefing now won’t occur until after Quinn’s noon speech Tuesday. Blanchette and the No. 2 man in Quinn’s budget office, Abdon Pallasch, distributed handouts this afternoon showing the amount of cuts Quinn has made in the last five years ($5.7 billion) and an 11-point factsheet titled “Illinois’ Comeback – the Facts.”

In it, the governor’s office predicts the amount of unpaid bills will stand at $4.9 billion by late June, half of where it stood in November 2010.

Neither Blanchette nor Pallasch would say whether the governor’s Democratic allies in the General Assembly would be given details of Quinn’s speech ahead of time.

Unwilling to answer the tax-increase question, Blanchette touched on what he said would be the main themes of Quinn’s spending outline for the 12-month state spending cycle that begins on July 1.

“The broad themes will include long-term fiscal stability for the state, paying down bills, properly funding education, protecting the middle class,” Blanchette said.