In the face of potentially crippling state debt, Gov. Pat Quinn spent most of his State of the State address Wednesday reflecting on the year, pushing for lawmakers to invest in education and, a familiar theme, creating jobs.
Unpaid bills took a back seat to the successes of the year: legalizing civil unions, creating new ethics laws and abolishing the death penalty passing the DREAM Act, among others.
"We're back on course, "Quinn said, noting three years ago he took office with one former Illinois governor in jail and the other being arrested. "Illinois is moving forward."
The governor nodded to the necessity of public pension and Medicaid reform in the coming year but said he'd "say more on these serious matters" during his budget address in three weeks. In the meantime, a working group has been created to propose a pension solution.
"We must do [reform pension] together in a way that is meaningful, constitutional, and fair to the employees who have faithfully contributed to the system," he said.
Among several ideas, Quinn called for the natural gas tax to be abolished to save households money and cut costs for employers. He also wants an Illinois Child Tax Credit to provide $100 of tax relief for parents raising children, as well as a tax credit to help veterans find jobs.
"Unemployment for young returning veterans in our country is 30 percent," he said. "That’s shameful."
Education was a major focus of the speech that called for a bigger investment in early childhood education and state MAP scholarships for college students. Quinn said he wants to improve school report cards, set benchmarks for teacher evaluations and -- though he didn't mention Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel -- lay the groundwork for a longer school day.
He announced a $2.3 million dollar investment in a tech center at the Merchandise Mart meant to foster and launch digital start-ups. He also announced a $6 million statewide competition to build high-speed broadband to create "Gigabit communities."
In the coming week, he said he'll announce a major housing initiative with Cook County President Toni Preckwinkle to put vacant properties to good use.
"We must invest in college scholarships, early childhood education, and 21st century schools.
We must invest in affordable housing for our residents and clean water for our communities."
Compared to last year's rambling address, this year's speech was much shorter and more concise. It's yet to be seen if the address inspired mass optimism or any kind of state turnaround.