Gov. Pat Quinn apparently didn't have the stomach to tell it like it is.
An energized and optimistic Gov. Pat Quinn extolled the state's virtues Wednesday as he delivered his State of the State address to members of the House and Senate.
"Abraham Lincoln once said, 'I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that his place will be proud of him,'" Quinn said. "After three years of hard work and tough decisions, Illinois is back on course. And Illinois is a place that we can be proud to claim as our own."
It is, of course, important for leaders to demonstrate a confident air as they confront difficult problems. But the best leaders — President Franklin Roosevelt among them — had enough respect for the public to be clear about the challenges that lie ahead. People have to know the nature of the problems they face if they are to join in an effort to solve them.
That's why Quinn's lack of candor was so disappointing, even if not at all surprising. It was an exercise either in self-delusion or political trickery.
Illinois is not moving ahead. It's going backward at a staggering pace.
Anticipating criticism of gubernatorial cheer-leading, Quinn's office let it be known that he would address the state's more intractable problems in his upcoming budget address. But, seriously, how can this state's chief executive officer deliver an address that purports to discuss the status of our ship of state without mentioning Illinois' woeful budget problems?
Finances drive public policy. No program — and Quinn talked about a lot of programs — is worth discussing if the money is not there to pay for it.
Just a few days ago, the Civic Federation of Chicago released an analysis of the state's finances that indicate the state's unpaid bills will quadruple, from $9.2 billion now to $35 billion within five years. That's fiscal Armageddon. The report attributed most of the expected increase to skyrocketing spending in support of public employee pensions and Medicaid.
Those who pay attention to government in Illinois will remember that the January 2011 increases in the state's personal and corporate income taxes were premised on the need to pay the state's unpaid bills. Well, that's not only not happening, but circumstances are getting dramatically worse.
Quinn didn't mention that bit of bad news.
Instead, he talked about ... tax cuts? Yes, tax cuts to encourage businesses to hire unemployed veterans, a child tax credit for families with children and elimination of the natural gas utility tax for businesses and family.
That would be fine if Illinois was flush. But the state is drowning in debt, verging on complete dysfunction.
Quinn did acknowledge that "we must have Medicaid reform and public pension reform in the coming year." But he did not say why.
There is much in Illinois that is good and worth pointing out, and Quinn did a commendable job pointing out positive changes that have occurred during his three-plus years in office. But State of the State addresses should be a time for straight talk about the future, and Quinn's address did not come close.