Will Quinn address ‘elephant in the room’

Will Quinn address ‘elephant in the room’

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SPRINGFIELD - Gov. Pat Quinn will shine a spotlight on himself Wednesday when he makes a pre-election address to a joint session of the Illinois General Assembly.

Not only will the speech kick off the spring legislative session, but it will serve as the unofficial start of the sprint toward the finish line of the primary election season.

Quinn aides have offered up general themes about what he is expected to talk about in the annual State of the State speech, ranging from job creation to improving the economy.

Republicans have their own ideas about what the noon address is all about.

"I think it's going to be a political ad for Pat Quinn," said state Rep. Bill Mitchell, F-Forsyth.

The speech will come almost one year after Quinn took office after Rod Blagojevich was booted from office.

Rather than touch on politically charged issues like an ill-fated early release plan for prisoners, Quinn is expected to promote a plan that will bring jobs to the state, which has seen unemployment hit levels not seen since the early 1980s.

That'd be fine with state Sen. Gary Forby. "Jobs are the number one issue," the Benton Democrat said.

An administration spokeswoman said Quinn also will touch on issues including ethics, education, the environment and veterans services.

The budget

State Sen. David Luechtefeld, R-Okawville, said it will be interesting to see how much emphasis Quinn places on the dismal state budget. The deficit is expected to reach $12 billion by the end of the fiscal year.

"It's the elephant in the room," Luechtefeld said.

Quinn has scrambled to keep state government afloat as tax revenues have slowed to a trickle during the recession.

Quinn called on lawmakers last year to increase state income tax rates, but the revenue-boosting idea was not approved in the House.

He's had mixed results when it comes to other budget-related moves. The governor's bid to lay off state workers was blocked by the state's largest employee labor union. A botched attempt to save money by releasing prison inmates early has become fodder for his opponents on the campaign trail.

Mitchell said he hopes it's "a candid discussion of how we are going to get out of this mess."

Election year

But most observers believe no matter what Quinn recommends, the legislature will be skittish about taking significant action because it is an election year.

"We'll be lucky to get anything done by November," said Forby, who voted last spring to raise income taxes. "I wish politicians would jump up and tell the truth instead of worrying about getting re-elected."

State Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, hopes Quinn talks about cutting the budget before calling for a tax hike.

"I hope his emphasis is on where he believes we can reduce spending," Righter said.

Steve Brown, a spokesman for House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said it is doubtful a tax hike vote is on the immediate horizon.

Although there are 70 Democrats in the House - and 60 votes are needed to approve a tax hike - Madigan contends that Republican votes are needed to put a tax hike on the books.

"Looking at the way our Republican friends are positioning themselves, the likelihood that you would have a successful vote on a tax increase in the near term seems unlikely," Brown said. "If the Republicans aren't interested in participating then it going to be very hard to put a majority together."

kurt.erickson@lee.net / 217-789-0865

chris.essig@lee.net / 217-789-0865



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