On Feb. 6, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn presented his fifth “State of the State” address, laying out an agenda that includes letting same-sex couples get married, raising the minimum wage, and prohibiting the sale of assault weapons.
He also touched briefly on the state’s mounting pension debt, which is approaching $100 billion, but did not offer a clear solution.
“This is a choice about whether we will make the tough decisions necessary to balance our budget by reforming our public pension systems or whether we will let our jobs, our safety and our schools be squeezed out by skyrocketing pension costs,” Quinn said.
The state has an estimated $9.3 billion in unpaid bills — 40 percent of which are for basic health services such as care for the poor.
Lawmakers serving this region, including State Representative Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) and State Senator Dave Luechtefeld (R-Okawville), were mostly critical of the governor’s speech, saying it lacked substance on the main issue of how to tackle the state’s fiscal woes.
“(The) address included some ambitious proposals for far- reaching programs and sweeping legislation, but these proposals seem to overlook the dire fiscal state of Illinois,” Costello issued in a statement. “The residents of Illinois are forced to pay for decades of fiscal mismanagement through a tax increase and cuts to important services, and yet the budget is a long way from balanced.
“In order to get Illinois back on track and get Illinoisans back to work, we must focus on eliminating waste and abuse, improving the business climate and economic growth, and making government officials accountable to the people of Illinois.”
Luechtefeld agreed, saying the state’s spending problem can no longer be avoided.
“If the governor is not serious about reining in spending, our state will never recover,” he said. “The governor gave a very good campaign speech, but offered very few answers to the state’s most serious problems.”
Both lawmakers were also critical of the governor’s decision last year to close such facilities as Tamms Correctional Center in the wake of a Feb. 5 attack at Menard Correctional Center.
“Two members of the correctional staff and a clergyman paid the price for Governor Quinn’s misguided decision to close Tamms Correctional Center,” Costello said. “Clearly, these prisons are overcrowded and understaffed, and as we warned, this imbalance is having disastrous consequences.
Luechtefeld agreed, saying “the Governor’s decision to close Tamms was completely wrong and should not have occurred.”