Legislators respond to ‘State of State’ speech
by CYRYL JAKUBOWSKI
Northwest Side lawmakers said that Governor Pat Quinn’s "State of the State" address offered a positive view of the progress Illinois has been making in an election year but that they want to hear financial specifics during his budget speech, which has been delayed from Feb. 19 to March 26.
The Illinois General Assembly approved Quinn’s request to delay the budget speech until after the primary election on March 18.
In his speech Quinn laid out a 5-year plan designed to create jobs, make early childhood education a priority and strengthen the economy.
"We inherited a perfect storm, and repairing the damage that had been done over decades would not happen overnight," Quinn said. "Over the past 5 years we have rebuilt one hard step at a time, and our economic recovery is strengthening every day."
Quinn said that Illinois has added 280,000 private sector jobs since 2010.
"When I took the oath of office, state government hadn’t properly invested in our infrastructure in 10 years," Quinn said. "Within 10 weeks we passed the largest construction program in Illinois history. So far we’ve built and repaired 7,595 miles of road, 1,311 bridges and 978 schools."
"We cut more than one billion dollars in state spending," Quinn said. "We overhauled our Medicaid program to save taxpayers over two billion dollars."
State Representative John Mulroe (D-10) said that he liked the speech but that it did not offer many specifics.
"It’s sort of like the Republican response to the ‘State of the Union.’ I don’t know how significant the ‘State of the State’ is," Mulroe said. "He was just touting his accomplishments and what he did since he became governor, but I think that so many people would rather concentrate on the negatives about this state instead of the positives."
To create jobs, Quinn wants to reduce the limited liability company fee from $500 to $30, establish a small-business advocate to examine policies and their effect on small businesses, double the Monetary Award Program scholarships, invest in a new biotech center and double spending on the Clean Water Initiative, which helps municipalities upgrade their water and sewer systems.
"I heard some of the points that the governor made, and I like some of the plans that he has put out there," state Representative Robert Martwick (D-19) said. "It’s going to be a tough election season. He is talking about a 5-year plan instead of going through it from one year to the next."
Quinn also proposed raising the minimum wage to at least $10 per hour, doubling the Earned Income Tax Credit to help families and support economic growth, and providing at least two sick days for every worker in Illinois.
"Raising wages for workers who are doing some of the hardest jobs in our society is not just the right thing to do," Quinn said. "It’s also good for our economy. According to the Federal Reserve, for every dollar increase in the minimum wage, workers spend an additional $2,800 in their local communities."
However, state Representative Greg Harris (D-13) said that most lawmakers are waiting for Quinn’s budget address.
"Everyone is looking to the budget address, because that’s where the challenge lies," Harris said. "We are facing a $1.2 billion loss in revenue if the tax increase expires, and how will we fund that gap?"
Harris said that residents must understand that cuts in spending on public safety and education would have to be made if the state does not close that gap. "There are always different approaches to revenue," he said. "If we get rid of the tax increase, we will need to close that gap somehow, whether through cuts to other programs or through some other way."
Martwick said that he would support extending the tax increase. "I will vote in a manner that is fiscally responsible for the state and will not push against getting rid of the tax increase," he said.
Mulroe said that when he voted in favor of the tax increase he though that it would be temporary. "But I understand that we would be fiscally irresponsible if we just let it expire without offsetting that gap," he said. "It could very well be the most challenging budget that he might have to deal with since he became governor. The tax increase is a moving target and he is trying to stay away from it."
State Representative Lou Lang (D-16) said that the speech accomplished what it was designed to do.
"The speech outlined more accomplishments in the state, and I think that it was a great speech," Lang said. "The message was that Illinois is beginning to come around and that we are creating more jobs. Illinois is on the mend."
Lang said that he wanted to make the tax increase permanent when the state was dealing with reforming the pension system last year. "If the governor proposes a budget and shows that we don’t need it, then I would be open to letting the income tax increase expire, but my feeling is that it will be a hard thing to do," he said.
Legislators said the proposal to increase the minimum wage should be examined closely.
"You have families who are living below the poverty level, and they are living pay check to pay check, and anything that I can do to help them, I’m supportive of it," Harris said.
"I was on the fence before because I think that people will lose jobs (with the wage increase), but I think that the more money people will have the more they would contribute to the economy," Mulroe said. "I just don’t want for this to mean that it will eliminate people’s jobs.
Martwick said that he supports people making a living wage but that he is concerned about how it would affect competition from bordering states.
State Representative Michael McAuliffe said (R-20) said that he was disappointed that the legislature allowed Quinn to delay the budget speech.
"The main thing will be the budget proposal, and that’s what people are looking forward to," McAuliffe said. "He talked about some good things that would help small businesses and helping students."
Legislators also reacted to House Speaker Michael Madigan’s proposal to cut the state income tax on corporations from 7.0 percent to 3.5 percent. The rate is scheduled to decrease to 5.25 percent in January. It was 4.8 percent before the temporary tax increase was passed in 2011.
"My point has been why don’t we get rid of the corporate tax all together?" Martwick said. "The vast majority of people who are paying that tax are small businesses. Most big corporations don’t pay it."
"I have to look at the plan, but I think that cutting corporate tax rates might stimulate the economy and I would look at something like that," Mulroe said. "We are facing challenging times, and we need to be creative and hard working in order to accomplish our goals."
McAuliffe said that the legislature has granted delays in the budget address in the past but that he voted against the request. "I think that we’ve done it so many times that he is almost taking it for granted," he said.