SPRINGFIELD – Gov. Pat Quinn focused on ways to create jobs and trumpeted his accomplishments with election-year flair Wednesday in an annual speech that fell on the five-year anniversary of when lawmakers booted his predecessor, now imprisoned ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, from office.
Quinn talked about inheriting an office laden with problems, such as a mounting pension crisis, fiscal issues and corruption. He detailed his work to a turn them around and laid out a plan stressing job creation and education for the five years ahead, a nod to his re-election campaign.
His plan for jobs included adding a small-business advocate to his staff, slashing a fee to start a limited liability company, paying more attention to early education and prenatal care, doubling the number of monetary award program scholarships for college students and investing in a new Chicago center for medical technology startups.
"Over the past five years, we've rebuilt one hard step at a time. And we've been getting the job done," Quinn said during the nearly 40-minute address in front of legislators and state office holders at the Capitol. "Illinois is making a comeback."
The speech was short on details, including how he'd propose to increase education funding. A spokesman said more would be revealed in Quinn's budget address on Feb. 19.
Quinn said he'd also expand the state's youth conservation corps, which will prepare young people for the workplace, and extend a program to help fix aging water systems.
The governor didn't address the state's other major looming financial issue, including what he thinks should happen when the income tax increase expires in January. He briefly mentioned the state's backlog in unpaid bills, which is estimated to be about $6 billion by year's end. He didn't propose a new capital construction plan; the current one has been touted as one of his signature achievements.
Instead, Quinn focused on issues affecting working people, a theme that's been part of his 2014 campaign.
He called to again double the earned income tax credit, something he did in 2011. He also reiterated his push to increase the minimum wage from $7.25 to at least $10, which coincides with a national Democratic strategy and has been a main issue among Republicans hoping to replace Quinn.
"They're putting in long hours. Yet in too many instances, they are living in poverty," he said of workers earning minimum wage. "That's not right. That's not an Illinois value."
The Chicago Democrat nodded to other accomplishments, mentioning signing bill that legalizes same sex marriage in Illinois and a pension overhaul designed to eliminate Illinois' nearly $100 billion unfunded liability — the worst in the nation — by cutting benefits for retirees and employees.
Quinn has been reserved in taking credit for it, particularly since it's prompted several union lawsuits, including on Tuesday. They say it's unconstitutional, but Quinn has said it'll hold up to a court challenge. Still, he took a careful tone on Wednesday, thanking legislators who voted and the committee that created the framework.
"It was hard. It was painful. And it took political courage. But together we got the job done," he said. "We can tell the people of Illinois we stopped the bleeding. We turned the corner."
How Quinn and others talk about the issue will be central on the 2014 campaign trail.
It's the second time the Chicago Democrat has given the speech during an election year — in 2010 he faced a Democratic primary challenge from then-Comptroller Dan Hynes — and what he said laid out his vision for this year on and off the campaign trail.
All five people running to replace Quinn — one Democrat and four Republicans — were in attendance of the speech. They are activist Tio Hardiman, who is challenging Quinn in the primary, and Republicans Treasurer Dan Rutherford, venture capitalist Bruce Rauner and state Sens. Kirk Dillard and Bill Brady.