We weren’t exactly surprised that Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address sounded more like a campaign speech. But we were disappointed, nonetheless.
The theme of Quinn’s speech was “our Illinois,” a phrase he repeated 30 times. In it, he took care to hit themes that would be popular with Democratic primary voters, such as legalizing gay marriage and banning assault weapons and high-capacity ammo clips.
The problem is, “our Illinois” is broke. Worse than that, it’s billions upon billions in the hole, a deadbeat to creditors and unable to fulfill its generous pension promises to workers.
Although the governor says he is serious about some kind of solution to the pension crisis this spring, there was little in his speech that made us hope for anything but more of the same.
Quinn eventually said pension reform was “Job One” for the Legislature this session, but he used the phrase only once, at the end of his speech. The state’s backlog of unpaid bills was not addressed at all.
Also not mentioned were the sacrifices for which taxpayers, unions and legislators should be prepared.
Rather, Quinn endorsed Senate President John Cullerton’s Senate Bill 1 – a hybrid of previous proposals – said “refinements” may come and then spoke in generalities about political courage, commitment and integrity.
“Together, we can guide Illinois safely through this pension challenge that we face,” Quinn said.
Pardon us if that still seems like wishful thinking.
Speaking of wishful thinking, it appears the governor’s plan to make Illinois an “employment first state” revolves around raising the minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 an hour in our state – which would be higher than any current rate in the country – within four years.
Organizations representing Illinois businesses, including the Illinois Retail Merchants Association and Illinois Chamber of Commerce, immediately opposed the move, saying it would have the perverse effect of making fewer jobs available. Their members are the ones who actually hire workers. Their opinion should count for something.
With our state at such a critical juncture, we hoped for more specifics and fewer platitudes about how our Illinois can turn things around.
As has been a common theme with this governor, however, we were disappointed.