A hike in the minimum wage, sending more children to preschool and more grants for low-income college students are all part of the agenda Governor Pat Quinn laid out Wednesday in his State of the State address.
Five years to the day after he first became governor, Pat Quinn tried to make the case that Illinois is "making a comeback." It's also the anniversary of when lawmakers removed his predecessor from office. Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich is now serving a federal prison sentence for corruption.
Quinn says he's helped restore integrity to state government.
"We've lead Illinois' comeback one hard step at a time. We've worked to repair decades of damage," Quinn told lawmakers. "And we're getting the job done. Let's keep the shoulder to the wheel and get that job done."
Quinn's vision for that includes raising Illinois' minimum wage to at least $10 an hour, and requiring businesses give workers at least a couple of sick days.
He also wants to expand prenatal care, and provide every child with access to preschool.
And he says Illinois should double the number of so-called "MAP" grants that help qualifying students pay for college.
But Quinn, who's running for re-election, made no mention of how Illinois would pay for his agenda. Especially given that Illinois' income tax hike is set to expire halfway through the next budget year. Republicans, and even some of Quinn's fellow Democrats, say his plan ignores Illinois' harsh financial reality.
State Treasurer and GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Rutherford says Quinn's annual address put a rosy spin on his tenure and avoided "some of the hard stuff." Rutherford says unemployment may be down, but Illinois still has one of the highest jobless rates of any state in the nation. He says he wanted to hear more from Quinn about a new capital construction plan that could create jobs. He also notes that Quinn avoided talk of whether to extend a temporary tax increase. Rutherford faces three other Republicans in the March primary: Bill Brady and Kirk Dillard and businessman Bruce Rauner.
In editorial reaction, the Chicago Sun-Times focused on the pre-school proposals, saying Quinn:
"laid out the broad contours of a 'birth to five' initiative that would invest over the next five years in quality preschool, prenatal care and supports and services for parents.
"Despite what critics say, research shows that a laser-like focus on a child’s early years is without question the best social investment we can make, particularly for low-income children."
The Chicago Tribune editorial page headlined its reaction "Wake up, Illinois Republicans."
It said, "Quinn could boast of several achievements during his five years (to the day) as governor: He had badgered legislators into sending him a package of pension reforms, he had signed real (if inadequate) improvements to Illinois’ workers compensation program, and he had accepted enough new spending constraints to keep state government alive (although still insolvent, facing bills that the comptroller’s office says now total $7 billion).
"By financial measures — Illinois’ economy in general, state government in particular — that’s as good as Quinn has got. But he’s a forceful campaigner, and for now the four Republicans are so focused on one another that they aren’t impressing an alternate view on this state’s voters."