Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Lawmakers anticipate Quinn's State of the State address

By Jamey Dunn

With Gov Pat Quinn due to make his State of the State address Wednesday, Illinois legislators hope his speech will touch on a variety of issues.

Quinn is scheduled to give his speech before a joint session of the House and Senate at noon on Wednesday, and he says he plans to focus on economic development.

“The best way to be strong is to build and grow your economy. There’s no other way to have a better budget than to make sure that we have a dynamic economy that’s creating jobs for middle class hardworking people in Illinois. And that’s what I’m going to talk about tomorrow,” Quinn said today at a Chicago news conference. “Economic growth and jobs are our number one priority now, today, tomorrow and forever in Illinois. As long as I am governor, we’re always going to stress economic growth and jobs.”

Senate President John Cullerton said that while the state still faces problems, he is hoping for a speech that is not all doom and gloom. “I’d like to hear the governor talk about what great progress we’ve made in Illinois in the last year,” Cullerton said. “We really have a great state. We have had to face some really serious problems, like most states in the nation. We’ve passed a lot of reforms to our budget process. We’ve passed caps on our spending. Last year we passed a balanced budget. … We still have some real challenges to face. But the state is really a very positive business-climate state.”

Rep. Roger Eddy, a Hutsonville Republican, agrees with Quinn that economic development is a top priority. “I hope he relays the fact that Illinois needs to make this state’s climate attractive to business. The way out of the problem we face fiscally is to make Illinois attractive to businesses.”

 What Eddy says he does not want to hear from Quinn is talk about “spending more money.” “My hope would be that he continues to realize the difficult position we’re in, and he has some plans.” Eddy said he think Quinn needs to acknowledge the issues brought up in a recent report from the Civic Federation that says the state’s backlog of unpaid bills will total $35 billion within five years if not action is taken.

Cullerton said he would support a plan to borrow to pay down the state’s overdue bills, but only if it had bipartisan support. “We should finance those payments over time. Pay people off right away, not borrow money from our vendors but from our lenders,” Cullerton said. “That would help the economy. That would make people who do business with the state feel more comfortable in doing so.” Quinn has favored such a proposal in the past.

The Civic Federation report also highlights growing Medicaid and pension costs. Both are issues Quinn said he plans to talk about Wednesday. “There’s some very interesting ideas in there,” he said of the report, but he said the document “was a little light” on proposals for economic development. While he plans to talk about some aspects of the budget, Quinn said: “Tomorrow is not the budget address. That’s three weeks from tomorrow.” He is scheduled to present his budget on March 22: “It’ll be, I think, a very provocative document. It will challenge the members of the General Assembly to show political courage to do important things that have to be done.”

Quinn told reporters he will propose some sort of tax relief in his address, but he would not give details on what the relief would be or what people or groups it might apply to. “The answer is yes, but you’ll have to wait till tomorrow.”

Eddy said that while such speeches are the time to lay out the broad strokes of policy changes, he hopes that Quinn does not make any drastic announcements that he later fails to follow up on. Eddy pointed to Quinn’s proposed elimination of the Regional Offices of Education in last year’s budget address. Quinn later used his veto pen to remove the funding for regional superintendents, and they went without pay for months. Quinn did not designate an entity to take up the duties of the Regional Offices of Education. The legislature, somewhat begrudgingly, passed a bill to pay the superintendents.

Many lawmakers, including Eddy, were frustrated at cleaning up what they saw as a mess that Quinn created. “Maybe the last year and his recognition of the fact that just saying it doesn’t make it so will be a good lesson for him,” said Eddy, who is a school superintendent in Hutsonville.

 Rep. Lou Lang, a Democrat from Skokie, said he hopes Quinn will talk about the budget and the backlog of unpaid bills. “I think the governor will acknowledge that we have some serious budgetary issues and try to indicate that we’ll continue our program from last year of cutting where we can, balancing the budget, trying to find revenue without taxation and trying to pay of our bills. I think that’s our first and foremost responsibility, and I’m expecting to hear that tomorrow.”

Lang added: “We have to find revenue. I don’t think the governor will discuss, for instance, the gaming bill, but the negotiations continue on that.” Lang sponsored a bill to increase the number of casinos in the state and allow slot machines at horse racing tracks. The bill passed both legislative chambers, but Quinn publicly opposed it. Lawmakers never sent the legislation to Quinn, who said he planned to rewrite it if it landed on his desk. Interested parties have gone back to the drawing board to try and negotiate a new bill that lawmakers would approve and Quinn would sign.

Lang said that he hopes Quinn indicates a desire to work more actively with the legislature on crafting the budget. The budget process was largely driven by the House last year. “Moving forward together, we can’t fix all the problems we have in one year, but we can continue to make the progress that the people of our state deserve.”

For a look back at Quinn's first year as elected governor, see Illinois Issues January 2012. 


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