Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Statehouse News that were written by various Illinois Statehouse News reporters.
Illinois Statehouse News spoke with lawmakers, a university president and people outside of the state Capitol to go between the lines of Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address.
In 35 minutes, Quinn outlined his agenda for the spring legislative session, referring to investments in higher education and tax breaks designed to employ more veterans for his 2012 jobs agenda.
However, he only briefly referenced Illinois’ crushing pension and Medicaid debt.
Quinn challenged lawmakers to increase the amount of money available to students from low-income families as part of the Monetary Awards Program, or MAP, Grant program.
“While nearly 150,000 Illinois students received state MAP scholarships last year …, just as many qualified applicants were denied because of a lack of funding,” Quinn said.
In fiscal 2012, the current state budget, Illinois is on pace to spend $420 million. Last year, Illinois spent $390 million.
But the state will need to balance more spending in the MAP program next year with the hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid payments the state owes to colleges and universities.
Glenn Poshard, president of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said his school still is waiting for $86 million from the state. But Poshard is quick to say he’d rather see students get more in MAP grants.
“MAP grants are a direct investment in the students, and that’s fine with us,” Poshard said after Quinn’s speech. “We want to keep the door open to opportunity to those low-income kids as much as we can.”
Job creation credits
The governor touted his job creation history: more jobs at Chicago’s Ford automobile manufacturing plant and Belvidere’s Chrysler automobile manufacturing plant, and of course large increases in the number of soybeans shipped overseas.
Ford is spending about $117 million and adding 400 jobs, while Chrysler is adding 400 to 500 workers to build newly designed cars.
Quinn inked a deal with a Chinese company to send 6.6 million bushels of Illinois soybeans to a processing facility in China. But Quinn said more needs to be done when he presented his Jobs Agenda for 2012, which he said will “grow our economy by helping our employers, our working families and our veterans.”
The jobs agenda includes investments in high-tech infrastructure to build what he calls “gigabyte” communities, investments in education to have a better trained workforce.
The governor also wants a tax credit, worth between $5 million and $10 million annually, to help veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars find work.
Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which advocates for businesses statewide, said Illinois already has a $1,200 tax credit for businesses that hire veterans, but it is underused.Whitley said he doesn’t know why the credit is not more popular, but Quinn’s push to hire veterans may popularize that tax credit.
“We have 100,000 veterans coming home … and Gov. Quinn is reminding employers that they need to be sensitized to the needs of hiring veterans,” Whitley said. “I think it was a positive element” in the speech.
Medicaid and pensions
Illinois two biggest expenses, Medicaid and pensions, were eyed for reform in Quinn’s speech, but he did not elaborate on how that would be accomplished.
“No reform is easy,” Quinn said at the end of his speech. “And reforming our Medicaid and public pension systems will require real political courage.”
Lawmakers blasted the governor for not offering more details.
Kraft said those details will come in three weeks when the governor delivers his budget address. Wednesday’s “focus was the vision for our state,” Kraft said.
But Kent Redfield, political science professor at University of Illinois at Springfield, was not persuaded.
“It would have been a little more intellectually honest to acknowledge what an overwhelming fiscal crisis the state is facing,” said Redfield. “Even if we really cut down to the core services and increase revenue, we’re still going to have a hard time keeping it together.”
Redfield said that Medicaid spending may be the biggest problem for Illinois this year, adding that Medicaid is “almost insolvable.”
— Benjamin Yount
Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday said increased state spending in critical areas will spur much needed job creation in Illinois. But Republican legislators had harsh criticism for a plan they say will cost the cash-strapped state roughly $500 million.
During his State of the State address, which came a year after the state’s individual and corporate income tax rates skyrocketed, Quinn said he’d like to create tax credits for families and businesses, invest more money in education and upgrade the state’s aging water systems.
Quinn said his Illinois Jobs Agenda 2012 would create a more job-friendly environment in a state that has seen its unemployment rate hover around 10 percent for the past several months, about 1 percentage point higher than the national average.
But Kent Redfield, a political science professor at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said Quinn’s ideas are working around the margins. The state has $8.5 billion in unpaid bills this year, and a recent study by the Civic Federation, a nonpartisan group that focuses on the state’s fiscal health, shows that number hitting $35 billion by 2017 drastic steps aren’t taken.
“If we don’t have the revenue, it really doesn’t matter. They’re great ideas we can’t afford. They are things we should probably be doing … but if we fall off the cliff three years from now these things will be pretty irrelevant,” Redfield said.
Quinn’s jobs program must past through the General Assembly, where legislative leaders, especially those on the right, were skeptical.
Illinois Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont), and state House GOP Leader Tom Cross, (R-Oswego), said the ideas Quinn laid out weren’t bad, but he ignored the state’s ailing fiscal health.
“The best thing we can do for (jobs) … is fix the state’s budget, because what happens is people looking to invest in the state see the financial disaster it’s facing and they know the other shoe is going to drop,” Radogno said.
State Senate President John Cullerton, (D-Chicago), had more tactful words for Quinn.
“As he advances new initiatives to create jobs and improve the economy, I look forward to hearing how we can fund these important priorities within a balanced budget,” Cullerton said in a news release.
— Andrew Thomason