SPRINGFIELD — When it comes to creating a new taxpayer-funded position to help small businesses in Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn may be trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist.
According to the results of a Freedom of Information Act request, the state's main business development agency said it received no complaints in 2013 from small businesses about problems with state regulations.
Dave Roeder, a spokesman with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said he was not sure why none of the more than 397,000 small businesses in Illinois submitted anything to an online complaint forum at the agency's Regulatory Flexibility Program.
The answers could range from business owners being happy with current state rules to a wariness of complaining to a governmental agency. Or it could be because no one knew there was a place to voice complaints.
"I can't offer you a lot of guesses," Roeder said.
In his State of the State speech Wednesday, Quinn said he will establish a special "Small Business Advocate" who would examine policies and proposals "through the lens of how they impact Illinois small businesses."
It remains unclear when the work will begin and what kind of paycheck will be offered to the new small business czar.
"The governor will announce this appointment in the coming weeks and the salary is to be determined," noted an administration memo.
It also remained unclear Thursday how much the duties of the new small business expert would overlap with the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's Regulatory Flexibility Program. The program works with business organizations and groups to determine ways to make rules more flexible, cost-effective or less restrictive.
Although the lack of complaints about small business regulations could be viewed as proof the administration's programs are working, Roeder said some problems faced by small businesses may be resolved through talks with state officials.
In addition, many small businesses work through state and national lobbying organizations to resolve problems through changes in state law.
Kim Maisch, Illinois director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said she's been lobbying on behalf of business interests for 15 years and she had never heard of the complaint program.
She said the governor's proposal will be effective only if Quinn is committed to listening to any suggestions that arise on controversial issues such as worker compensation costs or the minimum wage.
"A position like that is only helpful if they have the absolute attention of the governor," Maisch said.
It's not the first time Quinn has sought to create a special position to oversee a specific program. In his first year in office, Quinn tried to hire a longtime aide as his canoe czar to advocate on behalf of paddling the state's waterways.
Quinn also won't be the first governor to have a small business advocate. In 2001, former Gov. George Ryan named a former federal bureaucrat to be a state-level troubleshooter for small businesses.
Phyllis Scott's pay under Ryan was $99,408.