SPRINGFIELD - In his first State of the State speech, Gov. Rod Blagojevich lauded the University of Illinois for its technology breakthroughs and said he would create the state's first entrepreneurship center at the Urbana-Champaign campus to help turn those discoveries into successful businesses.
?There are countless entrepreneurs across this state with good ideas who just need a chance to show what they can do,? he said.
Blagojevich said he envisioned Illinois becoming a ?Silicon Prairie,? competing with high-tech business hot spots like Austin, Texas, and California's Silicon Valley.
?I think the emphasis on jobs and economic development was terrific, certainly mentioning the University of Illinois and its potential as an economic engine, being the birthplace of Mosaic, the Web browser and high tech, I mean those are all music to my ears,? said State Sen. Rick Winkel, R-Champaign. ?I am concerned, though, as to an awful lot of talk about new programs and new spending and yet always acknowledging that we have this massive deficit, but no detail on how we are going to get from where we are right now to what he sees for the future.?
Blagojevich spokesman Tom Schafer said the first center for entrepreneurship would be up and running in Urbana-Champaign within two months. Then 10 more would open in other cities each month after that.
The centers would be for all business ideas, not just those based on new technologies, and they would provide training, tools and resources, including 400 business planning and development grants worth $5,000 each.
The $1 million proposal was part of the governor's ?back to basics? message, focusing on jobs, education, health care and public safety.
But many lawmakers said the speech may have been a little too basic, without enough detail to determine whether the proposals are sound and economically viable in this time of budget crisis.
?It was a little light on detail and I'm not trying to be critical, but I'm not ready to go embrace a bunch of stuff yet until we see the fine-tuning to it,? said state Sen. Dan Rutherford, R-Chenoa.
But state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said she was happy with the broad strokes outlined by the governor.
?I thought it was a really good speech,? she said. ?I thought the governor had great ambitions for us, a good direction for the state to go. This wasn't the budget address, so it didn't bother me (that there weren't more details).?
The budget address, traditionally given in mid-February, is not scheduled until April 9.
Blagojevich estimated that the cost of all the ideas outlined in his State of the State speech would total $88 million in the budget year that begins July 1.
?With a nearly $5 billion deficit, I don't propose them lightly,? he said. ?But these are not only investments we can afford to make, these are investments we can't afford not to make.?
State Rep. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, questioned the governor's estimates.
?I think we need to sit back and look at this analysis, and see does it really cost what he says it will cost,? Rose said. ?And I've seen some of the estimates of some of these programs that are way more than his estimate of what the total package is, but I think obviously his goals and intentions are good.?
While the governor did mention that his proposed $200 million private venture capital fund could help farmers develop new uses for their products, Rose said, he would have liked to hear him say more about what he would do for the agricultural community.
Rose and Jakobsson both said they were happy to hear the governor commit to doing something about the high cost of prescription drugs for seniors, and Jakobsson said she was especially happy to hear the governor discuss expanding the Kid Care and Family Care health insurance programs, which will allow the state to capture more federal matching dollars.
Rutherford said he appreciated the governor's efforts during the speech to reach out to the lawmakers, many of whom have felt somewhat ignored by the governor since he took office in January, and to work in a bipartisan manner.
?I think he is understanding what you really have to do to govern a state,? Rutherford said. ?You can't govern a state isolated in the Executive Mansion or in the State of Illinois Center in Chicago. You have to do it with the 177 men and women of the General Assembly as well.?
You can reach Kate Clements at (217) 782-2486 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.