Thursday, February 02, 2012
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Illinois lawmakers underwhelmed with Quinn's speech

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[February 02, 2012]  SPRINGFIELD -- Jerry and Melanie Howlett didn't get to watch Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State speech Wednesday afternoon.

HardwareThe Hewletts, from Tremont, were touring the Capitol with their daughter and two sons. Jerry Howlett has the time to tour the Statehouse because he is out of work.

The former hospital caseworker, who has been unemployed since September, was skeptical of the governor's promises of tax credits for employers.

"I'd like to see some tax cuts," Howlett said, "but that's not something I think is going to happen."

Howlett was not the only person skeptical under the Statehouse dome on Wednesday.

Democrats and Republicans, state representatives and state senators said Quinn laid out an agenda that will cost the state money that Illinois does not have.

State Sen. Christine Johnson, R-DeKalb, said Illinois is looking at a $130 billion pension debt and Medicaid bills that could top $14 billion this year. She doesn't understand why the governor wants to spend more money on new programs.

"I live in the state of Illinois," Johnson said. "I don't know what state Gov. Quinn lives in."

Johnson, and many Senate Republicans, were quick to say they do not see how Illinois can offer tax credits for families or offer housing opportunities in Chicago while schools and local communities are being shortchanged by the state.

Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, said the governor's heart is the right place, but the state cannot afford his good intentions.

"Everyone supports veterans, and kids, and education. But the problem is, how do we pay for that support?" Jacobs said.

The governor spent most of his 35-minute speech talking up new programs or highlighting his three years as governor. Quinn only briefly mentioned Illinois' fiscal woes, and he touched on the need for Medicaid and pension reform.

Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said Quinn will need to get specific on Medicaid and pensions in three weeks, when the governor delivers his budget address.

"There's two 800-pound gorillas sitting in the room, and that's the need for Medicaid reform and the pension situation," Sullivan said. "We as a state need to come up with some solutions."

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State Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Peoria, used his own circus animal metaphor to criticize Quinn for the same lack of specifics.

"The elephant in the room today was the fiscal calamity that our state is facing," LaHood said. "And to not have those addressed today was a little bit disconcerting."

Quinn's office is quick to say that the budget speech will include more details about how the governor plans to address both pensions and Medicaid financial difficulties.

But Warren Ribley, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, said "it's too early" to say what those details will include.

State Rep. Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, said it likely will not matter what Quinn says in the budget speech, just like she said it does not matter what he said in the State of the State speech.

"I'm very disillusioned. I'm very disappointed," Tracy said. "But we have to get back to work. Speeches don't solve problems, but getting back to work does."

[Illinois Statehouse News; By BENJAMIN YOUNT and ANTHONY BRINO]

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