Gov. Pat Quinn today called for more spending on education and abolishing the natural gas utility tax in his State of the State speech.
The second half of Quinn's speech contained several proposals for new spending, though it's unclear how the cash-strapped state can afford them. Quinn said facing the state's challenges would require "political courage" from politicians and said "it's not the time to pull back."
"By investing in Illinois and investing in our people, we are building and growing the economy," Quinn said. "We are moving Illinois forward. No reform is easy."
Among Quinn's ideas:
*Abolishing the natural gas utility tax in Illinois. "This tax is an unfair, regressive tax that is not based on the ability to pay," Quinn said prepared remarks. "Regardless of income or whether or not you're making a profit, you pay this tax."
*Establishing a child tax credit in Illinois. It would be $100 of direct tax relief for a family of four.
*A hiring veterans tax credit. Read more about that HERE.
*Increasing MAP grants for college students. Quinn said 150,000 students rely on the grants. It's unclear how much the grants would increase under Quinn's plan.
*Spending more on early childhood education. The governor did not list an amount or what the money would be spent on.
*Spending to upgrade technology in classrooms. Again, details were scarce.
*Launching a state foreclosure prevention program to connect homeowners with counseling, legal assistance and relief.
It's unclear from the speech where Quinn will find the money to pay for any of his requests. That detail could be coming in his Feb. 22 budget speech. The state is billions behind on paying its bills and some leaders have noted the need to get spending under control if the bulk of an income-tax hike passed year is to expire after 2014.
"I look forward to working with you to find the proper funding to meet these urgent needs," Quinn told lawmakers.
Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, the highest ranking GOP official in state government, called Quinn’s approach toward to governing “like putting desert on the table before the vegetables. We must get our fiscal house in order before we can even talk about more tax breaks and incentives. Instead of targeting certain segments of the population, we need to remain focused on the needs of the entire state.”
“The ultimate goal of our leaders should be to put us in position to eliminate last year’s tax increase, while balancing our books,” Topinka said in a prepared statement.
Quinn's political speech touted what he and lawmakers have done in the past year: legalizing civil unions for same-sex couples, passing workers compensation reforms, approving nursing home reforms and abolishing the death penalty. The governor, however, didn't reference the major income-tax increase he and Democrats pushed through a year ago. It took the personal rate from 3 percent to 5 percent.
In the coming year, Quinn said, state government must focus on controlling Medicaid and public pension costs. The state pension systems are at least $80 billion short.
"Fixing the pension problem will not be easy, but we have no choice," said Quinn, who has put together a panel to explore solutions. "We must do it together in a way that is meaningful, constitutional, and fair to the employees who have faithfully contributed to the system."
Quinn also said "cuts alone will not get us to a better budget." Economic growth also will be necessary, he said.
The governor, as expected, also called for raising the school attendance age to 18, heeding President Barack Obama's call last month.
The governor spoke from prepared remarks and kept the speech under 40 minutes, a departure from some past speeches where he spoke from an outline and was criticized for meandering and talking too long.