In a state that has almost become a byword for corruption, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, a Democrat, delivered his annual State of the State Address on Wednesday. Facing election for a second full term next year, Quinn emphasized unity and working together. He made a specific reference to Ronald Reagan's name and the theme of his speech was, "That's our Illinois."
Quinn ascended to governor with the state Senate's impeachment of Rod Blagojevich on January 29, 2009. He previously served as lieutenant governor, state treasurer, and was an activist for term limits.
Jobs and ethics dominated the beginning and end of the speech with health care, education, public safety, diversity, and consumer protection sandwiched in between. Tweet it: Tweet
Quinn spoke of "marriage equality" and praised the passage of Illinois' gay marriage bill through committee in the state senate. He also proposed a minimum wage increase to $10 per hour, hiring disabled and veterans, and instituting online voter registration.
Perhaps in an act of goodwill to Republicans, Quinn said:
"In our Illinois, small business means big business. "Driving economic growth for small businesses requires doing all we can to make sure government is not in the way - while always protecting the health and safety of consumers." Tweet quote: Tweet
"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. "And I want to thank Orland Park Police Chief and former Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, an American hero who saved the life of President Ronald Reagan, for his help on this issue."
Yet in Illinois, the biggest issue remains the state's debt and depleted public pension system.
U.S. Debt Clock has Illinois' debt reaching $145 billion and Investor's Business Daily estimates the unfunded liabilities in the public pension system reaches $275 billion, which Quinn said in his address amounted to $17 million per day, and breaks down to $58,000 per household. Tweet the news: Tweet
Quinn sporadically mentioned pension reform, but made no reference to the state's debt or the January bond rating downgrade by Standard and Poor's to A-minus. The downgrade occurred specifically because of the pension crisis and tied Illinois with California for the lowest rating in the country.
There were plenty of critics of Quinn's speech. Perhaps unintentionally, Democratic State Senator Bill Haine noticed that the governor merely broached pension reform:
"I liked the thought, his mention, of pension reform. It's what's on all of our minds at the moment in Illinois. And the mention of righting our fiscal ship. The key to righting it is doing something about the pensions."
"Illinois in 2014 fiscal year is anticipated to have $600 million in natural revenue growth. . . . "The anticipated growth in the pension payments, state public pension payments, is $945 billion. $600 million, $945 billion. That means this governor, this general assembly is going to have to come to the hard reality of making the pension payment and not having enough growth and revenue coming in to pay for it."
Quinn, who is nearing the end of his first full term as governor, faces a potential primary opponent in 2014 in Attorney General Lisa Madigan and so his reliance on an assault-weapons ban, gay marriage, and an increase in the state's minimum wage may be his attempt to cut her off. By appealing to the importance of small business and one of Ronald Reagan's bodyguards in the context of the concealed carry debate, Quinn is actively trying to get Republicans to cooperate, even with veto-proof Democratic majorities in the General Assembly.
However, a recent Chicago Tribune/WGN poll shows Quinn at 54 percent disapproval, the highest such level of his tenure. Illinois faces numerous difficulties in the coming months and years and Governor Quinn's State of the State Address began approaching some of the state's biggest issues, but left many Illinoisans disappointed and asking questions.