SPRINGFIELD — Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State message was less about Illinois' fiscal condition and more about a likely Democratic challenge to the governor in 2014, Republicans said Wednesday.
In his speech to a joint session of the House and Senate, Quinn pushed a number of issues presumably important to Democratic voters: increasing the minimum wage, creating more construction jobs, making same-sex marriage legal, banning the sale of assault-style weapons, expanding health care coverage through Medicaid.
He also urged lawmakers to reduce pension costs and gave his endorsement to a pension reform plan pushed by Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago.
Here is audio of his address from WDWS .
Quinn said that "while refinements may come, (Cullerton's) Senate Bill 1 is the best vehicle to get the job done."
But the pension issue got less than a page of Quinn's nearly 13-page speech.
"In many respects I thought it was a political speech. He was pandering to his base and looking ahead to a primary," added Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet. "He hit pretty hard on some of the social issues. That was aimed at a future gubernatorial primary."
Both Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley have expressed interest in running for governor in 2014.
"By and large I think it was more of a campaign kick-off speech than anything else," added Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. "I definitely think that everything that goes on this spring will be viewed through the political lens of the upcoming governor's race, not only between the parties but also in the Democrat Party."
Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said that Wednesday's address sounded like a campaign stump speech.
"The first thing that struck me was that whenever the governor announces his campaign to run for re-election — and if he has a Democrat primary — I suspect that speech or his stump speech will look remarkably like the speech we heard today," said Righter. "The governor was very detail-oriented in making sure that he touched on all of the Democrat interest groups that will be players in the next election."
Republicans said they had hoped Quinn would address more fiscal and economic development issues in his speech, including pension reform.
"The elephant in the room, the only issue that matters right now and everything flows from it, is the pension bill," said House Minority Leader Tom Cross, R-Oswego.
"Almost everyone in the public recognizes that Illinois is in a tremendously difficult financial situation," said Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington. "The sheer fact that he did not even address the $8 or $9 billion of unpaid bills ... it's unbelievable to me that that was ignored."
Added Rose: "We need real workers' compensation reform, that means the litigation side of workers' comp reform. That would be the first thing to do. If you want people to work in this state, we're going to have to get serious about job creation, and the best way to do that is workers' comp reform."
Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who lost to Quinn in the 2010 gubernatorial election, said, "I didn't hear a mention of how we're going to pay the unpaid bills. I didn't hear a mention of how we would create the 290,000 private sector jobs that we have lost. I didn't hear a mention of the outmigration of people to other states. It's about enabling the private sector to create jobs, which enables us to pay down the debt."
Even Sen. Mike Frerichs of Champaign, one of the few Democratic lawmakers in East Central Illinois, admitted to being less than enthusiastic about Quinn's address.
"The devil is in the details, and in a speech like this he didn't provide a lot of details. I'm not sure the goal of his speech was to provide a lot of details and get into the weeds, but he said an awful lot of things that sound good in a sentence or two but may have problems when it comes to implementation."
When area Republican lawmakers were asked how they'd describe the state of the state, they used words like "not good," "poor," "awful financial condition" and "way overspending."
Said Frerichs: "I think the state is going in the right direction, but it's clear that we had fallen very far and we still have a long way to go."