SPRINGFIELD — When Gov. Pat Quinn delivered his State of the State speech last February, the theme of his address was “Moving Illinois Forward.“
On Wednesday, when he stands again before a joint session of the General Assembly for the 2013 version of his annual speech, he could title it “Unfinished Business.”
In the year that has gone by since the Democrat from Chicago outlined his hopes and dreams for the Land of Lincoln, there still remains no solution on the horizon to the state’s most pressing problem — public employee funding woes.
Fallout from the legislature’s inability to agree on a way to repair a pension system that’s $97 billion out of whack has led to closed prisons, less money for schools and universities and a credit rating ranked as the worst in the nation.
While the jobless rate has improved since Quinn’s 2012 address, the state was forced last week to delay the sale of bonds that would have been used to pay for improvements to roads, bridges and schools.
Quinn spokeswoman Brooke Anderson said the governor will try to rally the troops to take action.
“We’re not to our destination yet,” Anderson said.
Lawmakers aren’t expecting a cheery message.
“What I’d like to hear is that we don’t have a financial problem anymore, but that’s not going to happen,” said Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan. “An upbeat tone would be nice. We’ve had so much bad news.“
It will be freshman Rep. Brad Halbrook’s first time sitting through a speech by Quinn. He says the governor must focus on solving the state’s financial woes.
“If we don’t get this budget and pension solved, it doesn’t much matter. We can put Band-aids on a lot of other things, but until we solve this issue, nothing else moves forward,” the Charleston Republican said.
Rep. Adam Brown, R-Champaign, said he wants Quinn to embrace more budget cutting moves floated over the past two years by Republicans, such as requiring pictures on Link cards to help combat fraud.
“I think we need drug testing for welfare recipients. I think the savings to the state can be tremendous, in the multimillions, for sure,” Brown said.
Wednesday’s speech marks Quinn’s fourth year at the helm of state government after having been elevated to chief executive when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich was booted from office in 2009.
The address will serve as an opener for Quinn’s bid for a second full term in 2014, as he seeks to fend off potential challenges from within his own party from Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley.
If he makes it through that gauntlet, he’ll face a Republican Party that is hungry to take over the governor’s mansion after a 14-year absence. Among the potential GOP candidates are: State Treasurer Dan Rutherford of Chenoa; state Sens. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Kirk Dillard of Hinsdale; U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock of Peoria; and venture capitalist Bruce Rauner of Wilmette.
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While the state’s financial challenges are dominating much of the debate in the Capitol, Quinn also is likely to touch upon some of the other issues facing the General Assembly.
“The speech will be about defying odds, climbing hills and overcoming challenges,” Anderson said.
Tops among them is Quinn’s quest to ban the sale of military-style assault weapons. That effort will come at the same time as the General Assembly works on legislation that would make it legal for Illinoisans to carry concealed weapons in public.
Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, said he’s curious to see how Quinn will juggle the two issues.
“It will be interesting to see what his proposal is on how to balance the fact that we have to have a conceal carry and yet others are pushing for extreme gun laws,” Bost said.
Verschoore said he hopes to hear Quinn talk more about spending on construction projects, which create jobs.
“Our infrastructure is in bad shape, and we need to invest some dollars in it,” Verschoore said.
Anderson said she expects Quinn to continue his call for job creation as a way to help Illinois on its road to fiscal recovery.