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Governor stands at crossroads

Gov. Pat Quinn has been in office for 4 years. While he’s done some good, Illinois’ financial picture is worse. 2013 is a make-or-break year for the governor.

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT
Gov. Pat Quinn speaks with reporters last week after meeting with school administrators, teachers and law enforcement officials at a school safety summit in Springfield. Quinn’s fourth anniversary as governor was Tuesday.

After 4 years in office, Gov. Pat Quinn faces a make-or-break year in 2013.

On Tuesday, Quinn marked the fourth anniversary of taking the oath of office in the aftermath of Rod Blagojevich’s impeachment, conviction and removal from the governor’s chair.

Four years is the normal length of a gubernatorial term, so it is appropriate to review Quinn’s “first term.”

Quinn entered office at a trying time and brought a sense of decency that his predecessor lacked. For example, through his actions and words, Quinn demonstrated caring and respect for Illinois’ military men and women.

The new governor took seriously the requests for clemency that Blagojevich had ignored.

Quinn signed a capital construction bill in 2009 that led to significant reconstruction of roads and bridges in the Sauk Valley and statewide.

The governor last week signed Erin’s Law, which should cut back on the sexual abuse of children.

On social issues, the governor signed bills to approve civil unions and end the death penalty. He supports gay marriage. He wants to ban assault weapons. Those actions and positions can be viewed several ways, but they pleased Quinn’s supporters.

But if Quinn’s legacy were to be written today, his failure to come to grips with Illinois’ staggering financial problems would overshadow all else.

When Quinn entered office, Illinois’ budget deficit was running around $11 billion. Now the deficit is estimated at $15 billion.

When Quinn entered office, the state owed about $3.6 billion in unpaid bills. Now it owes about $9 billion.

When Quinn entered office, the pension debt was in the neighborhood of $50 billion. Now it is $96 billion.

Those figures worsened despite the income tax increase signed by Quinn 2 years ago, which takes more than $6 billion a year from taxpayers’ wallets.

More revenue hasn’t solved the problem. While some cutbacks have been seen at state agencies, serious spending cuts have yet to be tried. 

Quinn’s failure to work constructively with the Legislature is a disappointment. Quinn set several deadlines for action on pension reform, for example, but the Legislature ignored them.

Their collective inaction has sent Illinois’ credit ratings tumbling.

Under Quinn’s watch, unfortunately, the financial situation has not improved. Members of his party have taken notice.

Quinn barely won election in his own right in 2010. At least two Democrats, Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former Commerce Secretary William Daley, may be considering a primary challenge next year.

So, 2013 is a make-or-break year for Quinn. Unless he puts Illinois’ finances firmly on the road to recovery this year, voters may show him the door next year.

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