A year ago, Gov. Pat Quinn was struggling politically.
He faced the specter of two powerful Democratic primary opponents: Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former U.S. Commerce Secretary Bill Daley. At the same time, the Legislature ignored his calls for pension reform.
But both Madigan and Daley decided against running, and Quinn got the pension overhaul he wanted.
With that backdrop, a more confident Quinn on Wednesday delivered his annual State of the State address to the Legislature.
Quinn spoke about how much the state had improved since he took office 5 years ago.
“It was one of his better speeches,” said Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, whose district includes Whiteside County. “He has gone a long way in establishing himself as the comeback kid. He took over a state that was in fiscal trouble, and he brought some sanity and planning to the system.”
Still, Jacobs disagreed with the governor’s proposal to increase the state minimum wage from $8.25 to $10 an hour. The state, he said, should let the federal government take the lead.
“I want to give [Quinn] credit,” Jacobs said. “He’s done a good job. Can the Republicans field a candidate against him and beat him? I don’t see how.”
Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale, wasn’t so pumped up over Quinn’s speech.
“My first reaction was, with all of these programs he is proposing, how is he going to pay for them?” Smiddy said. “I wholeheartedly agree with his proposal for early childhood development, but he didn’t speak about how he would fund it.”
Smiddy said the governor can’t take all of the credit for the state’s improvements. But he credited Quinn for the passage of an infrastructure bill in 2009 that brought businesses to the state.
Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, tweeted throughout Quinn’s address.
In one, he wrote: “Quinn says Illinois is making a comeback. At this rate, we’ll be back by 2064.” In another, he wrote, “After that pep talk, we need a new coach.”
In an interview later, Demmer said Quinn’s speech sounded good, “but that’s about all.”
“There was a big discrepancy in the rhetoric he used and the facts of the situation,” the first-term legislator said. “We still have one of the highest unemployment rates. We are one of the least friendly states to do business in. The governor should have addressed that more forthrightly.”
But Demmer thanked the governor for one proposal – to sharply reduce the fee for a limited limited liability company from $500 to $39 – an idea, he said, that was pushed by the GOP House conference.
“When we put more money in the hands of business owners, we can create jobs,” Demmer said. “We get government out of the way of job creators.”
Sen. Tim Bivins, R-Dixon, said the speech was what he had expected.
“It’s like any governor would do: put his best foot forward, giving what he thinks are his accomplishments,” he said.
Bivins noted that Quinn talked about how the state’s backlog in bills had shrunk.
“They should be down a lot, if not completely paid,” the senator said. “That’s what the [income] tax increase was supposed to do. It didn’t happen.”