Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s “State of the State” speech today optimistically focused on ways state government can spur job creation and saved a dreary examination of state finances for the governor’s February 22 budget address.
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn’s “State of the State” speech today optimistically focused on ways state government can spur job creation, and saved a dreary examination of state finances for the governor’s February 22 budget address.
“Cuts alone will not get us to a better budget,” the Democratic governor said in the annual speech to the Illinois General Assembly. “We must build and grow our Illinois economy like never before to keep Illinois moving forward.”
Quinn also delved into topics that provide a big picture look at how he has shaped Illinois since becoming governor in 2009. Quinn said, for example, that he returned integrity to Illinois state government after the impeachment of his predecessor, Rod Blagojevich.
Illinois Republican leaders critiqued Quinn's speech, saying they want him to provide specifics regarding the handling of the state's budget problems – Illinois has a $9.2 billion backlog in unpaid bills.
“Unfortunately, Governor Quinn’s State of the State address today confirms that he has no comprehensive plan for dealing with the near catastrophic fiscal condition of our state,” Illinois Republican party chairman Pat Brady said in a statement. Brady lost to Quinn in the 2010 governor’s race.
Republicans as well as Democratic political leaders like Speaker of the House Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) and research groups like the Chicago Civic Federation frame the deficit issue as a matter of rising costs in Medicaid, the federal-state health care program for the poor and disabled, and the state's underfunded public employee pension obligations.
Quinn did announce that, “We must have Medicaid and public pension reform in the coming year.” But he said nothing new on either issue, pivoting to Illinois economic growth.
The governor said that the Illinois economy is getting better thanks to more manufacturing jobs, like those at automotive plants, and more exports, like soybeans being sent to China.
As for further economic improvement, the governor proposed three tax relief items – an up to $5,000 credit to employers for each veteran they hire; a $100 child tax credit for a family of four; and an elimination of the state’s natural gas utility tax.
State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, the highest-ranking Republican official in state government, compared Quinn’s approach to, “putting desert on the table before the vegetables.”
“We must get our fiscal house in order before we can even talk about more tax breaks and incentives,” Topinka said in a statement.
Toward the end of the speech – after a look at these tax credits – were two quite significant, if broad, proposals. One would, “put thousands of people to work” through clean water jobs, like replacing broken water mains. The February 22 budget address, again, may provide details.
Another would work with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle “on a major housing initiative that will help return vacant properties to good use.” The governor said that he would announce more on this in the coming week.
As we mentioned, Quinn also reminded Illinois residents that he follows two governors, Democrat Rod Blagojevich and Republican George Ryan, that are convicted felons due to their crimes in office. “On the day I became Governor three years ago, I promised to restore integrity to Illinois government,” Quinn said, “And we have.”
Quinn specifically cited “tough new ethics laws” along with measures like legalizing civil unions, “That have made Illinois a better state.”
Also, the governor took a dig at Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who curbed the collective bargaining rights of public employees, and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels, who signed a right-to-work law today in Indiana.
“Here in Illinois, unlike other states in the Midwest, we believe in the right of working people to organize,” Quinn said.