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Get down to the serious stuff

Little new in Quinn's speech; start legislating

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, March 3, 2014 10:46 a.m. CDT

Gov. Pat Quinn delivered his annual State of the State speech last week.

Depending on the outcome of the election, it was either the last one he will deliver or the first of four more. You’ll have to decide which is preferable.

It gave Quinn a chance to remind everyone of how the state was a virtual basket case when he took over 5 years ago from the disgraced Rod Blagojevich.

It likewise gave him a forum to explain how, in his view, things have gotten better since then, even if his Republican opponents took issue with that assessment.

There wasn’t any “wow” factor to the new stuff he wanted. An increase in the minimum wage has been out there. There was some speculation Quinn would call for a new public works construction program, but he didn’t really address that. He just talked about the good the old one did.

Quinn outlined a couple of programs that will cost the state money, but he didn’t say how he would pay for them. But money issues are handled in the budget speech, so that wasn’t a big deal.

The big issue this spring is going to be the budget and the pending expiration of the income tax hike midway through the year that will blow a multibillion-dollar hole in state spending. That’s going to overshadow anything said in a State of the State speech.

Add to that the fact that Quinn has never been a particularly effective deliverer of prepared speeches. And this speech didn’t have any particularly memorable lines or clever turns of phrase.

So basically, he gave a speech he’s required to give. Now let’s move on to the real issues.

Bill backlog

Just before the speech, Quinn’s budget office sent a letter to lawmakers touting the fact that the year-end bill backlog is projected at $5.6 billion. It is, the letter said, a huge improvement over the $9.9 billion backlog that once existed.

And so it is. But wasn’t the backlog at the end of last year $5.2 billion? Does that mean things are actually getting worse again?

No, said the budget office. The balance was calculated very conservatively and could be lower at the end of the year because of progress that’s been made with state finances.

OK, we’ll see.

Quotable quotes

“It’s a big, big issue. That’s a $5 billion issue. Is it going to stay or not? But then, I haven’t really heard our gubernatorial candidates jump into the fray either. No one seems to want to touch that.”

– Republican Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, not criticizing Quinn because he didn’t deal with the income tax hike expiration in his speech.

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“We can’t have families living in poverty who are working their buns off and can’t get ahead of the game.”

– Topinka, on why she supports an increase in the minimum wage.

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“I think he’s naive to think he’s going to get another five years.”

– Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington, a Republican candidate for governor, on Quinn looking 5 years ahead in his speech.

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“Maybe so in his mind.”

– Treasurer Dan Rutherford, a Republican candidate for governor, reacting to Quinn’s assertions that things are looking up in Illinois.

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“Pat Quinn has to have a press staff that has a lot of perfume to cover up the fact that we are rated 50th in economic outlook.”

– Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, another GOP candidate for governor, not sharing Quinn’s optimistic outlook of the state.

•  •  •

“Lame duck sessions seem to be more dramatic every two years. This one coming up in January could be the mother of them all, if there’s going to be a change in the [Executive] Mansion.”

– House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs, looking ahead to next January if Quinn is defeated.

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