Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday said he's worked to rebuild Illinois "one hard step at a time" since he took office five years ago during what he called a "perfect storm" of government corruption, economic collapse, and financial instability.
"We’ve been getting the job done," the Chicago Democrat said in the annual address to legislators that also had the tone of a campaign speech. "Illinois is making a comeback."
The remarks from the Illinois Statehouse in Springfield were Quinn's second to state legislators and constitutional officers during an election year since taking office in 2009. They also come five years to the date since he assumed the role of governor after lawmakers voted to remove ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich from office.
In his address, Quinn called for doubling the state's Earned Income Tax Credit, raising the minimum wage, beefing up early education and doubling the monetary award program scholarships for college students. He also promoted a new Chicago center that will open later this year to help start medical technology companies, pressed for the extension of a water program designed to upgrade old systems, and said that approving last year's landmark pension overhaul took "political courage" and was painful.
"Together we got the job done," he said. "Today, we can tell the people of Illinois we stopped the bleeding. We turned the corner."
Here are five themes from the governor’s State of the State speech:
- Year in Review—The governor took several minutes to review his time in office. From the handling of nearly a dozen natural disasters to budgeting measures to pension reform to the approval of same-sex marriage, the governor touted his successes. Quinn noted that he took office during Illinois’ “darkest moment” and said he has since been working to “get the job done.”
- Education—Early childhood education was a major talking point in the governor’s speech. He introduced his latest education initiative, dubbed the “Birth to Five Initiative,” which aims to provide prenatal care to expectant mothers, provide young children with access to early learning programs before kindergarten, and encouraging strong parent support for children.
- Minimum Wage—Quinn has been promoting an increase in minimum wage in Illinois, hoping to raise it to “at least $10 an hour.” “Our minimum wage workers are doing hard work, they’re putting in long hours, yet in too many instances, they are living in poverty. That’s not right,” he said. Quinn added that minimum wage workers often spend their income in local communities and said raising the minimum wage would help local economies and “make our economy work for working families.”
- Small Businesses—Along with the economic growth expected from raising the minimum wage, Quinn advocated new legislation and policies for small businesses. Among the talking points, was decreasing an initial setup fee for local businesses from $500 to $39 and continuing to provide loans and investments to those in need. He also issued an executive order to establish a “small business advocate” whose sole focus will be to examine policies and proposals “through the lens of how they impact Illinois’ small businesses.”
- Creating Jobs—Quinn plans to continue with reforming Illinois’ infrastructure, a plan which he says will continue to support thousands of jobs. He also said that the state has 130,000 unfilled jobs, requiring specific skills, which he hopes to prepare younger generations to fill. To do so, Quinn said he plans to double the number of MAP college scholarships for Illinois students. As for adult workers, he announced a goal of getting 60 percent of the adult workforce equipped with a degree or career certificate by 2025.