By Benjamin Yount | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD — For 38 minutes, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn spoke enthusiastically, even lovingly of “our Illinois” without answering any questions about how the state will deal with its $130 billion pension debt, $9 billion in unpaid bills, or hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts that are certain to come this spring.
Quinn hammered home the theme of “This is our Illinois” throughout his State of the State speech Wednesday.
Many lawmakers, state officials and policy makers were unimpressed.
Gov. Quinn: “This is a choice about whether we’ll make the tough decisions necessary to balance our budget by reforming our public pension systems … or whether we will let our jobs, our safety, and our schools be squeezed out by skyrocketing pension costs.”
Republican state senator, and former GOP candidate for governor, Bill Brady said Quinn’s talk is little more than that.
“It’s not about Squeezy the pension monster. It’s about leadership on solving the pension crisis,” Brady said. “You can only listen to the rhetoric so many times before you have a hard time believing it.”
Quinn’s reviews from his own party were no better. “The conversation that must be had, simultaneously with pension reform, is budget practices reform so that we don’t have a problem like we’ve had for decades, where you credit-card off of the pension payment,” said State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago.
Gov. Quinn: “Our Illinois is a place where everyone has an opportunity to work … and where our companies innovate and grow. Our businesses are only as good as the employees who drive their success. Nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty. That’s a principle as old as the Bible. That’s why, over the next four years, we must raise the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour.”
Southern Illinois Democrat Brandon Phelps said he had a hard time swallowing the governor’s talk of economic growth.
“He’s proud of the 54 closings of state facilities. I’m still upset about that,” Phelps said. “He wants to talk about all of these accomplishments, but you know what, he sent a lot of people in my area to the unemployment line. He didn’t talk about that.”
Todd Maisch, vice president at the Illinois Chamber of Commerce said he’s not surprised by the governor’s push for a higher minimum wage — not happy about it either, just not surprised.
“I was disappointed that he couldn’t really demonstrate that he understands how markets really work and how to run a business,” Maish said. “We wanted to hear what he was going to do to offset that cost for businesses.”
Gov. Quinn: “We must prohibit the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in Illinois. Of course, we must abide by the Second Amendment. But there is no place in our state for military-style assault weapons designed for rapid fire at human targets at close range.”
Quinn received zero applause from the GOP for an assault-weapons ban, but the harshest words came after the governor’s address from his fellow Democrats.
Phelps, the leading downstate Democrat who supports concealed-carry laws, said the governor cannot ignore a pending court order that will require some sort of constitutional carry.
Raoul, the Chicago Democrat said instead of asking for an assault weapons ban, Gov. Quinn would have more success focusing on the real problem.
Gov. Quinn did not mention Illinois’ $9 billion backlog of unpaid bills.. Instead, the governor spoke in platitudes.
Gov. Quinn: “With courage, hard is not impossible. We are not a state — we are not a people — that shies away from hard things. And we can continue to make our Illinois a reality. An Illinois whose people and businesses prosper. An Illinois in which the will of the people is the law of the land.”
Then, riffing off the governor’s comments, she added, “In our Illinois, we’re not paying bills. So our Illinois is a bit financially shaky, and it’s really not better.”
Contact the author at Ben@IllinoisWatchdog.org.