Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY TINA SFONDELES, PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER ts­fonde­les@sun­ | @Ti­naS­fon

The ten­sion was thick — and zingers about fail­ure and toi­lets were at the tips of their tongues — as Repub­li­can Gov. Bruce Rauner faced Demo­cratic chal­lenger J.B. Pritzker for their last de­bate Thurs­day night in down­state Quincy.

With just 26 days be­fore Elec­tion Day, big ques­tions were asked — and gen­er­ally went unan­swered.

Pritzker, a bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur and phi­lan­thropist, for the umpteenth time dodged ques­tions about the rate of his pro­posed grad­u­ated in­come tax. And Rauner pledged big prom­ises about changes he’ll make to the state dur­ing a sec­ond term with­out ex­plain­ing how he’d get a Demo­cratic su­per­ma­jor­ity to go along with his plans.

“You’ve just heard a des­per­ate rant by a failed gov­er­nor who is in the fi­nal hours of his cam­paign and his gov­er­nor­ship,” Pritzker said to ap­plause after Rauner once again called Pritzker a “bank rob­ber” who got caught.

That was a ref­er­ence to $330,000 Pritzker re­turned to Cook County for a prop­erty tax break he re­ceived in part by re­mov­ing toi­lets from one of his man­sions.

“You’re likely to hear more of that tonight be­cause he’s got noth­ing else, just lies and ex­cuses,” Pritzker said.

Sev­eral polls have shown Pritzker with a dou­ble-digit lead, and the Chicago Demo­crat chose to par­tic­i­pate in just three tele­vised de­bates, in­clud­ing the one in Quincy, where he could high­light a deadly Le­gion­naires’ out­break at a vet­er­ans home there. The deaths, and an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Illi­nois At­tor­ney Gen­eral Lisa Madi­gan, were quickly brought up at the hour­long de­bate.

On the same day Pritzker re­leased a TV ad fea­tur­ing a fam­ily mem­ber of a vet­eran who died of Le­gion­naires’ disease at the home, Rauner apol­o­gized to fam­ily mem­bers of those af­fected by the out­break: “I am sorry for your loss. It is deeply painful.”

But the em­bat­tled Repub­li­can gov­er­nor still as­serted that the out­break was dealt with “im­me­di­ately.”

“When the Le­gionella in­fec­tion oc­curred, im­me­di­ately the first day, ac­tion was taken to keep the vet­er­ans safe,” Rauner said. “Wa­ter sup­plies were shut off. Win­dows were closed. Foun­tains were shut down. Bath­tubs drained and no longer used. And the vet­er­ans were eval­u­ated for their health con­di­tion. Those who were in­fected were treated prop­erly. Ev­ery­one else was mon­i­tored, and the fam­i­lies of those vet­er­ans who showed some symp­toms were no­ti­fied im­me­di­ately when a change in health con­di­tion of their loved ones.”

“No one is per­fect. In ret­ro­spect we could all learn lessons about how to do things bet­ter, but the vet­er­ans were well served by the out­stand­ing staff here,” Rauner said. “Ac­tion was taken im­me­di­ately to keep them safe.”

Pritzker de­nied those claims, re­it­er­at­ing that 14 died and 70 oth­ers were sick­ened by the bac­te­ria.

“It’s a shame­ful ne­glect of our vet­er­ans, who we should be stand­ing up for ev­ery day,” Pritzker said.

When asked about how he’d keep peo­ple from leav­ing the state, Rauner said Illi­nois is “hos­tile on taxes and reg­u­la­tions.” He said Pritzker’s grad­u­ated in­come tax plan will “crush the mid­dle class, crush job cre­ators.”

“They will flood out and the sound of that flood will not be the sound of toi­lets be­ing flushed, it’ll be the sound of busi­nesses get­ting flushed down the drain in this state of Illi­nois,” Rauner said. “We need to cut the taxes, re­form our state gov­ern­ment and re­duce the reg­u­la­tory bur­den on our busi­nesses and end the cor­rup­tion that Mr. Pritzker is part of.”

One of the de­bate’s mod­er­a­tors, Bobby Oler of HOI in Peo­ria, said he has seen Pritzker “put the tap danc­ing shoes on” for ques­tions about his pro­posed grad­u­ated in­come tax. Oler asked the Demo­crat what a teacher in Peo­ria, who makes an av­er­age of $51,480, would pay in in­come taxes un­der his plan.

Pritzker said the teacher “ought to get a tax break,” with­out pro­vid­ing specifics.

“He’s not an­swer­ing your ques­tion,” Rauner said.

“Why not get a rate? We didn’t get a rate in the first fo­rum. We didn’t get a rate in the ABC7 de­bate,” Oler said. “This is your chance tonight in the last de­bate, can you give us a rate?”

“Well, let me tell you this, we want to make sure that we’re ne­go­ti­at­ing it with the peo­ple in the Leg­is­la­ture, mem­bers of the House and Se­nate who are rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the peo­ple,” Pritzker said to some laughs and some ap­plause. “And then, this is im­por­tant, it’s got to go to a ref­er­en­dum of the peo­ple of Illi­nois.”

The two also sparred about ed­u­ca­tion fund­ing, with Pritzker telling Rauner a his­toric change in the fund­ing for­mula “hap­pened in spite of you, not be­cause of you.” Rauner, in turn, said he “led” the ef­forts.

“If you’re go­ing to in­ter­rupt,” Rauner told Pritzker, then paused for sev­eral sec­onds. “Be care­ful about the per­jury, Mr. Pritzker.”

The em­bat­tled gov­er­nor said he wants the state to have the big­gest cap­i­tal bill on record, which he said he could de­liver with no new taxes by a “bal­anced bud­get,” more money from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment, ex­pand­ing gam­ing and with pub­lic-pri­vate part­ner­ships: “We will have a boom­ing econ­omy, strong eco­nomic growth, the best ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem in Amer­ica.”

Pritzker said the gov­er­nor made the same prom­ises four years ago.

“He’s liv­ing in a state of de­nial, the rest of us are liv­ing in the state of Illi­nois,” Pritzker said.

Demo­cratic gu­ber­na­to­rial chal­lenger J.B. Pritzker (left) and Repub­li­can Gov. Bruce Rauner dur­ing their fi­nal de­bate Thurs­day in down­state Quincy.

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