Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Quinn proposes new spending in upbeat State of the State address

By Jamey Dunn

 Gov. Pat Quinn focused on the positive as he gave his State of the State address today.

He highlighted recently passed legislation such as education reform and the Illinois Dream Act.

He touched on some of his favorite stories of Illinois success, such as job growth at a Chicago Ford plant and the state’s large volume of agriculture exports.

“We have invested in our state, making it a better place to do business. And we have invested in the people of Illinois, helping our working families and improving education. The results are in from major export growth and the largest public works construction program in state history to solid gains in education. We’re back on course. Illinois is moving forward,” Quinn said in his speech.

“I felt like I was listening to the story of the Emperor’s New Clothes, and he was walking down the street saying, ‘Boy, my clothes are beautiful,’”  said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno.  “And the rest of the state — the citizens — are saying, ‘He’s naked!’ It’s like he totally doesn’t get it that the focus here needs to be on the problem we all agree is out there.”

But Senate President John Cullerton said Tuesday that the state has made progress in the last few years, and Quinn should celebrate it in his speech.  “I commend the governor for highlighting the many accomplishments that we have made over the last few years,” Cullerton said in a written statement released today.

“I think he did the right thing by stating the real positives that we have here in Illinois, and we have many positives,” said Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.  “But we also have a big tab right now that we have to pay.”

Quinn pitched several initiatives, but the response from lawmakers and other Illinois officials was “show me the money” that will pay for new programs.

“I’m sure they’re all excellent proposals. … It all boils down to revenue, money, balanced budget. Where is that going to come from?” said Sen. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat. “We want to work with the governor. If he has some ideas on how we can come up with that revenue, we’re willing to take a look at it, but you know it’s just going to be extremely difficult in this situation.”

Palatine Republican Sen. Matt Murphy said: “He spent a significant amount of time in his speech talking about new spending. It’s just detached from reality.”

Quinn proposed a series of tax cuts that he said would help to spur economic growth and create new jobs. He said he wants to make "major investments" in classroom resources, such as new technology, early education and the Monetary Assistance Program. Both preschool funding and MAP grants have been cut in recent years. He said he wants to make investments in the state’s water systems, such as new water mains and sewage treatment plants. Quinn solidified the goals of doubling Illinois exports by 2014 and having 60 percent of residents holding a certificate of post high school education by 2025.

Quinn’s budget office estimates that the tax cut plan would cost about $300 million. The budget office did not supply cost estimates for other parts of Quinn’s plan. “Today, our focus is on the vision for our state. …The governor looks forward to working with legislators on these investments, as well as investments in college scholarships, early childhood education, affordable housing, clean water for communities, and 21st century schools that will continue moving Illinois forward,” Kelly Kraft, Quinn’s budget spokesperson, said in a written statement.

Republicans gave a figure of $500 million as a ballpark cost of all the proposals Quinn made. They complained that Quinn did not address the state’s growing backlog of unpaid bills, which a recent report says would reach $35 billion in five years if no action were taken. “He didn’t refer to the backlog at all, really. It’s there. I see it everyday,” Topinka said. “You certainly don’t solve this problem by creating new programs, even though they do generate a lot of feel-goods. … If I had a calculator in my hand, it would have blown up. There’s no way to pay for all these things.”

Quinn has proposed borrowing to pay down the backlog, and Cullerton said Tuesday that he would support a bipartisan borrowing plan. But Murphy said, “The borrowing is dead on arrival.”

Warren Ribley, director of the Department of Economic Opportunity said Quinn’s proposals would help spur job growth. “I think the goal of having 60 percent of our population with an accredited degree by 2025 will certainly provide a strong foundation for growing jobs and moving the economy forward. … We have to continue to invest in infrastructure. I work with business every single day, and the two things that they tell me that we need are strong investments in your infrastructure and strong investments in your education. So it’s very consistent with what I hear.”

Rilbey said that today’s speech was an “opportunity to lay out a vision,” and Quinn would address how he proposes to pay for his proposals when he presents his budget later this month. Cullerton said he was willing to wait for the budget address to get the details on spending. “As he advances new initiatives to create jobs and improve the economy, I look forward to hearing how we can fund these important priorities within a balanced budget,” Cullerton said in a prepared statement.

However, Republicans were less patient. “He’s had three years,” House Minority Leader Tom Cross said. “And these issues just get worse and worse and worse.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said they were pleased that Quinn called for Medicaid and pension reform this year. “Fixing the pension problem will not be easy, but we have no choice,” Quinn said. “I was encouraged to hear him about pension reform and Medicaid reform. I hope he will show the courage he talked about in tackling those issues in the coming weeks,” Murphy said. “They are the two 800-pound gorillas that are sitting in two different corners of the room that we have to address,” said Sullivan. “It’s not going to be an easy task. Is the will here to do it? I don’t know.”

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