By Kevin McDermott
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn today used his election-year "State of the State" speech to make the case that, far from being the flailing chief executive portrayed in brutal poll numbers, he has in fact brought Illinois back from the brink of corruption and fiscal catastrophe.
"We've been getting the job done," Quinn said repeatedly -- a speech theme that sounded notably like a re-election campaign slogan. ". . . We stopped the bleeding, we turned the corner, and Illinois is making a comeback."
Quinn this year is seeking his second full term in office facing weak popularity, divisions in his own party, and a deep bench of serious Republican candidates trying to replace him. During the midday speech to a joint gathering of the General Assembly in Springfield, Quinn reiterated his call to raise the state's minimum wage from the current $8.25 an hour to "at least $10." The proposal has been a centerpiece of his re-election campaign.
He also proposed that businesses in Illinois be required to provide employees with at least two sick days per year.
Both initiatives drew immediate fire from the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
"The Governor's call for increasing the minimum wage and mandated paid time off for workers is so frustrating to potential job creators," the group said in a prepared statement.
"The Governor and many legislators want to embrace the rhetoric of helping small business with a 'renewed focus' but then turn around -- in the very same speech -- and call for policies that will certainly kill small business jobs."
Among other key points in Quinn's speech:
- He proposed an early childhood education initiative called "Birth to Five," which would provide pregnant mothers with support from schools, hospitals and other entities, from birth to Kindergarten;
- He proposed cutting the filing fee for new businesses structured as limited liability companies from the current $500 to $39;
- He said he would use his executive order powers to create a new state government position focused on finding ways to help small businesses.
Quinn started the speech by lauding several Illinoisans who saved lives during natural disasters, including two National Guardsmen who freed hundreds of trapped drivers during a snowstorm.
"They got the job done," said Quinn. He then proceeded to apply that phrase, over and over, to his own time in office.
Quinn noted he was sworn into office five years ago today, to replace impeached Gov. Rod Blagojevich during what he called "Illinois' darkest moment."
"We had one former governor in jail and another on the way to jail . . . Our financial house was on fire . . . It was a perfect storm and it left destruction in its path.
"Over the past five years, we've rebuilt, one hard step at a time," he said. "We've been getting the job done."
He went on a rattle off a litany of successes during his tenure, including state employee pension reform, the passage of a landmark same-sex marriage law and increased infrastructure programs.
Quinn's description of a state that has turned the corner on economic and political catastrophe drew derision from Republicans after the speech.
"To listen to the Governor today, you'd think Illinois was a land of prosperity," said state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville. "Unfortunately, the families of my district know better." Among issues critics pointed out is Illinois' continuing budget deficits.
"Illinois is broke, and on top of that, Illinois is broken," Kirk Dillard, one of five GOP candidates for governor going into the March primaries, said in a statement after the speech. "Gov. Quinn has failed to acknowledge that state government continues to live beyond its means and spend money we do not have."
State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, noted in a statement that Illinois' unemployment is "stuck above 8 percent" under what he alleged are anti-business policies under Quinn.
"While I applaud the Governor's efforts to showcase Illinois as a strong economic state, the truth of the matter is that it's not," said Kay, who has called for changes to the state's tax and regulatory policy. ". . . Our future can be the bright picture Governor Quinn painted if he and the legislature finally begin to recognize what got us into this mess."
The Illinois primaries are March 18, in advance of the Nov. 4 general election.
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