Skepticism follows Quinn's address
SPRINGFIELD — State legislators voiced little enthusiasm Wednesday for new programs and tax cuts that Gov. Pat Quinn suggested in his State of the State address.
The governor mentioned three "targeted tax cuts," and proposed spending more on early childhood education, higher education scholarships and technology improvements in schools.
Republicans said Quinn was speaking from "Fantasy Island," and even Democrats expressed outright skepticism.
"Balancing the budget — I think that's the important thing and there wasn't any discussion about that," said state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana. "Now we're looking at the proposals that he's put out there and while they look good on paper, I don't know how we pay for this.
"There's no money. I think what we want to do is have a balanced budget and we know it's going to be a struggle to maintain some of the services we already have, some of the programs that are already in place. To bring in new programs and new spending when we don't have the money is going to be very difficult."
Another Democrat, Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, said Quinn "had a lot of good ideas but the difficult part is going to be finding the money to make it as part of a balanced budget. One of the things we've got to focus on here in the Legislature is making sure we live within our means and making sure we pass a balanced budget."
Frerichs said the proposed tax cuts were "worthwhile goals, but it's a question of how much the state can afford. Quite frankly I'd rather take that money and invest it in skills training that would allow people to get good-paying jobs at places like ThyssenKrupp in Danville and Kraft in Champaign."
Republicans were even more harsh in their assessment of Quinn's speech, which the governor had labeled "a jobs agenda."
"The jobs stuff is good," said Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, "but the fundamental problem of the state of the state is spending more money than what we take in. This should have been about how we're going to get that under control."
"I felt like I heard Ricardo Montalban say, 'Welcome to Fantasy Island,'" said Rep. Chad Hays, R-Catlin. "I don't think the pace with which we are addressing the issues in Illinois is commensurate with the state of emergency we're in. I have to tell you that I was extraordinarily disappointed because I think that this is a situation that is urgent and I didn't hear much urgency there."
Quinn has said he would more thoroughly address financial issues in his budget speech later this month, but Republicans said Wednesday's address ignored the biggest needs facing Illinois.
"The governor needed to talk about spending cuts, and the phrase 'spending cuts' appeared nowhere in this speech," said Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon. "The governor's vision of Illinois moving forward — and that's the phrase we heard a lot — is moving forward with a government that takes more money out of taxpayers' pockets and tries to do more with it. More spending."
Rep. Jason Barickman, R-Champaign, said he was glad to hear Quinn "address the fact that our state needs to create a climate where job producers can thrive.
"But I disagree with how he plans to get there, and I think he showed a total disregard for the issues facing our state. We have a backlog of unpaid bills that reaches billions of dollars. We have the largest deficit in the entire country and what I heard was new spending, new initiatives and not even a peep about the major issues facing our state."
Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, whom Quinn defeated in the 2010 gubernatorial election, said Quinn needed to explain how the state could afford new programs and tax cuts.
"Not once did we hear how he's going to pay for this," he said. "He imposes a 67 percent tax increase on families and businesses, and then tries to fluff it back with a $100 per family tax credit. This isn't the real world."
Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, was most succinct: "All the things he wants to do are going to cost a lot of money, which we don't have."
One of the few notes of praise for Quinn's speech came from Doug Whitley, a Douglas County native and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
"He hit the right themes from the perspective of the Illinois chamber," said Whitley, who was a Republican candidate for governor two years ago. "We've been talking about a jobs agenda for two years, and now it's actually made it into this speech."
Whitley said he was pleased to hear Quinn mention the need for an export advisory council and for an infrastructure program for water systems.
But Whitley added that he thought the budget address "will not have any good news for anybody. If we get our fiscal house in order it's going to mean genuine pain that people are going to see and experience and suffer."