Our View: Gov. Pat Quinn’s values and priorities seem to be oriented ever northward, leaving the state below Interstate 64 a mere afterthought.
In Southern Illinois, unemployment and poverty are well known, and food pantries are fighting to stay stocked while serving more clients.
So, like us, you might have been surprised to hear this in Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State address, which he delivered Wednesday:
“We have made strong progress in the last four years, on everything from creating jobs and reforming our education system, to enacting strong ethical standards and improving our roads, bridges and rail systems like never before.”
Really? We thought the last four years have been, well, difficult. Employers such as coal mines and a boat maker have closed. Enrollment has been lower at SIU. And a large number of people who worked at state facilities have had to move north or look for other local work.
Facilities that closed or are preparing to close include Tamms supermax prison, Illinois Youth Center in Murphysboro, the state police crime lab and adult transitional center in Carbondale, and Murray Developmental Center and state ag lab in Centralia.
Not only will Southern Illinois jobs be lost, but valuable and timely services will move farther away.
To Quinn, the bottom line is the state “successfully closed 54 state facilities, saving taxpayers $100 million a year.”
The governor also threw his support behind an effort to raise the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour during the next four years. As the governor noted, “Nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty. That’s a principle as old as the Bible.”
True. But there’s another consideration even older: economics. Businesses that cannot stay open employ no one, and new businesses may choose friendlier states.
Let’s not forget we live in a state that recently raised personal and corporate income taxes by roughly 67 percent and which already has a minimum wage well above the national minimum and higher than all but two states. Illinois risks becoming even less attractive to potential employers.
The governor did say, we are “not an Illinois of 13 million individuals, each going their own separate way. No. We’re a community — a community of shared values.”
Among the governor’s priorities are new gun laws that would heavily restrict semi-automatic firearms and the capacity of firearm magazines. Frankly, these are not big issues in our region. If anything, Southern Illinois tends to favor individual freedom and the Second Amendment.
Nor is there an incredible push here to legalize gay marriage, yet it is among the governor’s priorities.
But the huge problem remains the pension crisis. Illinois is roughly $97 billion in the hole when it comes to funding its pension obligations. Servicing that debt is punishing the budget, and the ratings houses are punishing Illinois for being so short-sighted for so long.
Indeed, Quinn said, “This problem cannot be delayed, deferred, or delegated to the next session — to the next generation.”
Quinn, in fact, made a point of thanking Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, for “providing us a path forward through Senate Bill 1, a comprehensive bill that stabilizes our pension systems and fixes the problem.”
As far as we know, the details of SB1 remain up for negotiation, but we honestly believe there will be a transfer of pension costs from state to local governments, and that will be felt by taxpayers here at home.
We can only pray that Illinois does not hit education and downstate Illinoisans with a double whammy: a pension cost transfer without some corresponding financial stabilization of state support for primary and secondary education.
We do fear the die has been cast and the details will eventually emerge to the satisfaction of three Chicago Democrats: Quinn, Cullerton and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.
May they be more merciful than Quinn has to date in his treatment of Southern Illinois.
We are not saying Quinn is a bad man. We do think perhaps the longtime political outsider has become the proverbial dog that caught the car he was chasing. And it would seem the governor’s ideas about how to cope with that are drifting farther and farther north, leaving the state below Interstate 64 an afterthought.
The question must be asked: Are Quinn’s values and priorities at all the values and priorities of Southern Illinois?
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