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Governor lays out his vision for the future

1/30/2014

by Toby Trimmer, IFT Director of Political Activities

On Wednesday, January 29 Governor Quinn addressed lawmakers for the annual State of the State (SOTS) speech. Traditionally, these speeches highlight successes and lay out big plans, but rarely explain how they will be accomplished. Quinn’s address upheld that tradition.

The following is an overview of his remarks and my reaction to them.

Pensions
Early in the address, the Governor cited a major accomplishment in the state’s pension theft scheme passed late last year in Senate Bill 1. Here’s what he said:

“Tackling Illinois’ pension crisis was the tallest task of all… Thanks to all who voted yes…  Today, we can tell the people of Illinois we stopped the bleeding.  We turned the corner.  And Illinois is making a comeback.”
Missing from his remarks was any sense of the financial harm inflicted on workers and retirees under SB 1. Even if he chooses to champion this damaging act of politicians, it’s disappointing that Quinn is disconnected from the forced sacrifice of workers.  

As you know, the IFT and our labor partners in the We Are One Illinois coalition filed suit in Sangamon County court on Tuesday to challenge the constitutionality of SB 1. Our case, and four others filed against the bill, awaits court review and consideration. It remains to be seen whether Quinn’s assertion that “the bleeding” can be stopped by slashing hard-earned retirement benefits is anything more than wishful thinking on his part. We know that we will not yield in our efforts to stop this illegal legislation.

A Three-Point Blueprint for the Next Five Years
Following his efforts to take credit for the state’s accomplishments over the past few years, the Governor laid out an aggressive agenda for the next five years. Quinn said Illinois lawmakers must do three things: 1) create more jobs, 2) deliver stronger education, and 3) build an economy that works for everyone.  
Create More Jobs
The economic recovery in Illinois has been anemic, at best. It is true that unemployment has dropped since the 11.3% high during the recent recession. The Governor today cited that Illinois has led the Midwest in job creation since May 2013. Unfortunately, job losses in the government sector continue to increase, a statistic Quinn conveniently overlooked. Here are some of his proposals for future job creation:

  • Reduce LLC Fees
    Illinois maintains a $500 LLC fee, the highest in the nation. He’s proposed reducing it to $39, making it the lowest. It is unclear how many businesses will flood to Illinois to incorporate, and the Governor was silent about the fiscal impact of the proposal.

  • BioHub
    Claiming that biotechnology has a $98 billion impact in Illinois’ economy, Quinn proposed investing in a new biotech center to help industry start-ups.

  • Conservation Corps
    Quinn asked for an expansion to the youth and young adult conservation corps for low-income, underserved, and at-risk 14-25 year-olds to gain training and work experience.

  • Small Business Advocate
    The Governor announced that, through Executive Order, he is establishing a Small Business Advocate in his office. This advocate will examine state policies and proposals to determine the impact on small businesses.

  • Double MAP Grants
    During the next five years, the Governor also proposed doubling the number of Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) scholarships available to Illinois students. The IFT will vigorously support this plan as long as revenues are not diverted from other critical education and/or public service investments.  

Deliver Stronger Education
There was little mention of K-12 initiatives in the Governor’s speech. Instead, he claimed victory for the 2011 SB 7 reforms and highlighted that more needs to be done. In particular, Quinn focused on Early Childhood Education. He’s calling this program the Birth to Five Initiative.

Birth to Five Highlights:
  • Prenatal Care – Over the next five years, the state will engage community partners (schools, hospitals, faith-based organizations) to connect expectant mothers with prenatal services.

  • Provide Children with Access to Early Learning – With help from existing federal grant funds, the state will expand early learning opportunities.  There were no specifics on how this plan would be developed or implemented.

  • Support for Parents – Quinn said the program aims to empower parents with the tools needed to strengthen their child’s pre-literacy, math, and social skills.

Economic Fairness
Quinn claimed that strengthening the economy means establishing fairness. With a stated goal of building Illinois’ middle class, Quinn outlined three initiatives that the IFT has historically supported.

  • Raise the Minimum Wage
    Piggybacking on President Obama’s initiative to provide low wage workers with a fair income, Quinn suggested increasing the state minimum wage to $10 per hour. It is unclear whether this increase would be phased in over five-years or take effect immediately.

  • Double the Earned Income Tax Credit
    This tax credit is provided to low income families to ensure that they keep more of what they earn. The Governor proposed doubling this credit over the next five years.

  • Earned Sick Time for All Workers
    There still remain employers who do not provide their workers with sick time benefits.    Under the proposal, Quinn suggested providing every worker who has been employed at their job for more than one year with a mandatory two-day sick time allotment. 
Budget Address
We expect details on all these proposals on February 19 when Quinn delivers the state budget address. At that time, he must explain how our state plans to move forward with the potential loss of nearly $1.5 billion in revenue next year.  

The IFT has long fought for the real, structural revenue reform needed to solve our state’s budget problems.  That means a fair tax system in which the wealthy pay more and lower income earners pay less. It also means a commitment to strike down long-standing corporate tax giveaways that don’t create jobs or support education and public services. Through our involvement with the A Better Illinois coalition, we will continue to work to create a fairer system of taxation.
     

While Quinn’s speech looked ahead to plans for the next five years, we are well-served to recall what the last five years of “reforms” have meant: more corporate-led regulation for classroom teachers; high layoff rates in local school districts; stagnant contracts with more duties for workers; and, theft of retirement savings to plug budget holes. IFT members and all Illinoisans deserve a budget plan that finally shifts the burdens away from us.

During the Governor’s budget address next month, we’ll be listening closely to learn how he intends to solve critical revenue problems as legislative session approaches.

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