Gov. Pat Quinn is a busy man these days.
An unfinished budget, uncertainty about extending the income tax hike, billions of dollars in unpaid bills, and the state’s multibillion-dollar debt rest heavily on his shoulders.
And he faces a strong challenger in the November election in the person of Republican Bruce Rauner.
Yet, the governor took time last week to look ahead to 2018, the state’s 200th birthday, and announce the start of planning for that big event.
Quinn signed an executive order to create the 2018 Illinois Bicentennial Commission. He called it a grassroots organization that will plan a celebration that will be meaningful to every state resident and also spur history-based tourism.
The Bicentennial Commission has a big job ahead of it. Its duties are to plan and coordinate events, activities, publications, digital media, and other things regarding Illinois’ 200th anniversary.
About 50 commission members, all volunteers, will be appointed in the coming months, Quinn said. While legislative leaders and the directors of seven cabinet departments will nominate members, the governor will name most of them.
We urge Quinn to be certain that all regions of the state are adequately represented.
In the governor’s statement, it was noted that the state Bicentennial Commission will use as its guide the “highly successful 2009 Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial observance.”
Well, that might be one way to look at it.
However, then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich significantly toned down the Lincoln Bicentennial by cutting its $8.7-million-dollar budget to only $3 million.
While the Land of Lincoln did pay tribute to its most famous former resident, the pared-down budget didn’t help matters.
We urge Quinn and the Legislature to begin thinking now about how to pay for the Illinois Bicentennial.
Commemorative coins, history books, and souvenirs could be created and sold, with the proceeds earmarked for the bicentennial.
State income tax forms could be modified to allow for voluntary gifts to the bicentennial fund when people file their tax returns.
Perhaps the Illinois Lottery could create a game whose proceeds could be set aside for 2018.
Bequests, grants, and other donations should be sought as well.
While tax dollars could be appropriated, we believe the celebration should not rely solely on them because of Illinois’ other financial obligations.
However the money is raised, it should be deposited in an account where it can’t be swept aside to use for other purposes – a budgetary tactic for which Quinn’s former boss, Blagojevich, was infamous.
Projects of similar permanent value should be planned for 2018.
On Dec. 3, 1818, Illinois officially became a state. By the time Dec. 3, 2018, rolls around, Illinois needs to be well prepared to appropriately mark the milestone.