President John Cullerton,
Speaker Mike Madigan, Leaders Christine Radogno and Tom Cross,
members of the General Assembly, and distinguished guests: Good
It is an honor to
address you at the start of a new legislative session. And let me
again welcome our 38 new legislators, women and men committed to
serving their districts and our state.
We are joined this afternoon by
Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon, Attorney General Lisa Madigan,
Secretary of State Jesse White, Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka,
Treasurer Dan Rutherford, Auditor General Bill Holland, and
Superintendent of Education Chris Koch. Thank you for your presence.
And thanks, in particular, to
Secretary White, for your career of public service and the impact
you have made in reducing traffic fatalities over the past four
years to historic lows.
I'd like to recognize today Erin
Merryn, who advocated to give us "Erin's Law" to prevent sexual
assault and abuse of children. Thank you Erin.
As we gather today, let us also
pause to thank our Illinois men and women in uniform, whose service
and sacrifice make occasions like this possible.
We're honored to have with us today
Sergeant James Cissell, a Lead Firefighter with the Illinois
National Guard 662nd Fire Fighting Team based in Sparta.
Last year, Sergeant Cissell was
scheduled to leave military service, but instead he volunteered to
extend his service so he could deploy with his unit to Afghanistan.
There, he and his 7-man team responded to dozens of fires and
He just returned to his wife Angela
and children Courtney, Cori, and Cody in October. Sergeant Cissell,
you are man of great courage.
This year, we mark the 10th
anniversary of the Illinois Military Family Relief Trust Fund, a
program which has provided more than $14 million to support families
of our deployed service members, including Sergeant Cissell and his
family last year.
In Illinois, we understand the
profound debt of gratitude we owe our heroes. And I'm proud to say,
on behalf of the people of Illinois, to Sergeant Cissell, and to all
our servicemembers, veterans, and their families: thank you for your
service and sacrifice.
Fellow citizens of Illinois: I am
here to report on the state of our state.
And let there be no mistake: our
state is at a critical juncture.
We have made strong progress in the
last four years, on everything from creating jobs and reforming our
education system, to enacting strong ethical standards and improving
our roads, bridges, and rail systems like never before.
We have moved Illinois forward. But
we have much more to do. At this point, each and every one of us has
a choice to make about what we want our Illinois to look like.
Do we want, in the years to come, a
prosperous Illinois where working people continue to have good
jobs... where businesses thrive... and where all our children have a
Or do we want to stop the progress
and watch our economic recovery stall?
This is a choice about whether
we'll make the tough decisions necessary to balance our budget by
reforming our public pension systems... or whether we will let our
jobs, our safety, and our schools be squeezed out by skyrocketing
We have a tall task ahead of us.
This is no small issue. And doing what's hard isn't always what's
popular at the moment.
But, we must remember that hard is
In fact, last year, we made major
progress on some of the most impossible issues that have ever
confronted our state.
We overhauled our Medicaid program
and saved it from the brink of collapse.
We abolished the troubled
legislative scholarship program.
And we successfully closed 54 state
facilities, saving taxpayers $100 million a year.
We did these hard things working
together... in good faith. across the aisle.
And that's because we're not an
Illinois of 13 million individuals, each going their own separate
No. We're a community... a
community of shared values.
And we all share a vision of an
even better Illinois. An Illinois that is more prosperous. An
Illinois that embraces all people... whose communities are safe...
and whose children are educated for the good jobs of the future.
We all want this... this is our
Illinois... and we've made great strides toward making it a reality.
Our Illinois is a place where
everyone has an opportunity to work... and where our companies
innovate and grow.
When I took the oath of office four
years ago, Illinois had not had a jobs program to build highways,
bridges and schools in more than 10 years.
Within 10 weeks, we passed Illinois
Jobs Now!... the largest public works investment in our state's
Between that and our Tollway
initiative, we've been investing $43 billion to build and strengthen
our infrastructure. This is supporting more than half a million
Construction workers, like
operating engineer Dawn Voce, who is with us today, have been busy
working. Thank you, Dawn.
Dawn and her fellow workers are
ready to rebuild the Jane Addams Tollway to Rockford. They're
building a bridge across the Mississippi River in East St. Louis.
And they've already completed the new Wacker Drive in Chicago.
But we have much more to do. So,
Members of the General Assembly, let's enact House Bill 190 without
delay -- and keep creating construction jobs.
That's our Illinois.
Four years ago, many thought
high-speed rail was a pipe dream. But now, we're making it a reality
in Illinois, creating thousands of jobs and paving the way for more
Four years ago, we had leaky pipes,
broken water mains and obsolete wastewater treatment facilities.
Some of the pipes still in use in
Chicago were laid when Ulysses S. Grant was president of our
That's why one year ago, right here
in this chamber, I made a commitment to every Illinois resident to
update our water systems and make sure that everyone has access to
clean drinking water.
Through our Illinois Clean Water
Initiative, we're investing $1 billion in clean water... supporting
more than 28,000 jobs to replace broken water systems, upgrade
sewers, and clean up environmental threats.
And to Larry Swope of the Illinois
Pipe Trades, and Jim Coyne, head of Plumbers Local 130: thank you
for your hard work.
We're investing in clean water in
Pekin, in Princeton, in Hinckley, in Elmhurst, in Flanagan, and in
And we have much more to do.
Soon, we'll be putting workers on
the job for new Clean Water projects in Kankakee, Murphysboro and
all across Cook County.
We are leading the way in creating
clean water jobs.
That's our Illinois.
In our Illinois, small business
means big business.
Driving economic growth for small
businesses requires doing all we can to make sure government is not
in the way -- while always protecting the health and safety of
Four years ago, Illinois had one of
the most burdensome worker compensation systems in the country. That
didn't help our businesses or our workers.
So we reformed the system, saving
business millions of dollars in insurance premiums. And we did it
working together, with both parties. Thank you, Leader Christine
Achieving this reform was not easy;
but hard is not impossible.
Now, we all know that business
requires capital. And four years ago, capital was hard to find as
all of Illinois suffered from the Great Recession. So we invested in
our small businesses, providing $23 million in federal funding to
scores of companies through Advantage Illinois.
And we've awarded micro-loans to
hundreds of businesses, primarily to minority- and women-owned small
businesses in high-need communities. In the past four years, we've
increased the participation of minority- and women-owned firms in
state contracts. And we're going to do more.
Our investments are helping
businesses like Urban Juncture in Chicago's Bronzeville
neighborhood, where owner Bernard Loyd is creating 70 jobs and
tackling the food desert. Thanks for putting people back to work,
In our Illinois, working people
find good jobs not just for today but for tomorrow.
We've worked to expand our Clean
Energy Economy, creating 10,000 green collar jobs. But we have much
more to do.
We're making buildings more
efficient. And we're expanding our renewable energy capacity.
That's what our Illinois looks
To create 21st century jobs, we're
also investing in innovation.
We worked with Argonne National
Laboratory to bring a new research facility to Illinois.
In the next five years, Argonne
will lead a public-private team to create the next-generation
battery -- a battery that is five times cheaper and lasts five times
longer than today's batteries.
We also helped create 1871, a
digital hub that has become home to more than 200 startups.
But there's more to be done.
Now is the time to take that same
innovative, public-private approach to advanced manufacturing.
In the last 3 years, manufacturing
has been one of our state's leading growth sectors, creating nearly
40,000 new jobs. We're at the cutting edge of advanced
manufacturing, and we need to stay there.
That's why we're partnering with
the University of Illinois and the National Center for
Supercomputing Applications to create an advanced manufacturing hub
where companies -- big and small -- come to learn and use the
world's most sophisticated tools and software.
The Illinois Manufacturing Lab will
make our manufacturers more competitive.
Now, in our Illinois, we leave no
As we create next-generation jobs,
we must ensure that our workers are equipped for them.
Today there are 140,000 job
openings in our state that are unfilled because the people looking
for jobs don't have the necessary skills.
So we're closing this "skills gap."
Over the past year, we've trained thousands of workers for jobs in
high-demand industries like healthcare, manufacturing and
But let's not forget one community
that already has great technical skills and training. That's our
veterans. We need to make sure their military training counts here
That's why, this morning, I signed
an Executive Order that directs our licensing agencies to assess
military training for state license requirements.
Just last month, we completed a
great first step, with the Board of Nursing approving a suggested
"bridge" curriculum for military medics to obtain LPN licenses.
We owe it to our veterans -- and to
our companies -- to keep this process moving.
And that's exactly what my
Executive Order will do. We'll help more companies hire veterans and
take advantage of the Hiring Veterans Tax Credit we passed last
Our shared vision for a better
Illinois also means we must honor the productivity of our workers.
Our businesses are only as good as
the employees who drive their success.
Nobody in Illinois should work 40
hours a week and live in poverty. That's a principle as old as the
That's why, over the next 4 years,
we must raise the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour.
Senator Kimberly Lightford, you are
doing the right thing with your mission to raise the minimum wage.
And as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
once said, it's always the right time to do the right thing.
Dr. King also said, "Of all the
forms of inequality, injustice in healthcare is the most shocking
In our Illinois, everyone should
have access to decent healthcare.
Twelve years ago, when I walked 167
miles across Illinois, I met a young mother in Mendota who worked
full-time as a waitress. She didn't have health insurance.
That wasn't right then and it's not
right now. Hundreds of thousands of working people in Illinois today
do not have health coverage.
Fortunately, thanks to President
Barack Obama, we now have the Affordable Care Act, which will
improve the health of the people of Illinois and create thousands of
But to make this a reality, we must
act now. We have work to do.
So I call on the General Assembly
to increase access to health coverage for the uninsured through
Medicaid and to create the Illinois Health Insurance Exchange.
I want to thank Speaker Mike
Madigan for his commitment to ensure that we reap the benefits of
the Affordable Care Act. And to the members of the Legislative Black
Caucus, thank you for making sure it's "everybody in and nobody left
We also share a vision of an
Illinois where every child is prepared to succeed.
That starts with education reform.
Four years ago, Illinois was behind.
But now we're setting the reform
agenda for the nation.
I signed into law education reforms
that put the students of Illinois first.
These reforms have improved school
report cards, so that parents are empowered with more information
about the schools that educate their kids.
These reforms also set clear
benchmarks for teacher evaluation and put performance above tenure.
In addition to these reforms, we've
invested $45 million to build early childhood education centers in
high-need communities across Illinois, including in Carpentersville,
Dolton, and Cahokia.
But there's much more work to do.
That's why we are rededicating a
new Lincoln Hall at the University of Illinois next week.
And why we're building Phase 2 of a
new campus for Western Illinois in the Quad Cities.
And why we've just completed a new
automotive aeronautics building at SIU in Carbondale.
In our Illinois, anything is
possible... especially when it comes to educating our students.
But let's be frank.
The pension squeeze is draining our
ability to teach our students. Our children are being shortchanged.
And in the end, that shortchanges our economy, too.
That's not our Illinois.
In our Illinois, we find a way to
get hard things done.
We address the hard issues. Issues
like the threat of gun violence.
Last December, our hearts broke
along with the parents of the children who died in the horrific
massacre in Newtown, Connecticut.
And our hearts break every day with
families who suffer from violence in Illinois communities...
families like the Pendletons, whose daughter Hadiya Pendleton was
stolen from us last week.
I spoke with Hadiya's family on
Monday. There are no words in the English language... or any
language... to relieve the pain of parents who lose a child.
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In the Old Testament, the prophet
Jeremiah wept day and night for the slain of his people.
Today, we all weep over the
senseless violence in our communities.
But as elected officials, we're in
a position to do something about it. We have life-saving work to do.
We cannot wait for another tragedy
to happen before we take action.
We must move forward with a
comprehensive plan that includes gun safety legislation, mental
health care, and violence prevention strategies.
That's why today, I ask you to move
forward with strong public safety legislation that will safeguard
the people of Illinois.
We must prohibit the sale of
assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines in Illinois.
Of course, we must abide with the
second amendment. But there is no place in our state for
military-style assault weapons designed for rapid fire at human
targets at close range.
And I want to thank Orland Park
Police Chief and former Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy, an
American hero who saved the life of President Ronald Reagan, for his
help on this issue. Thank you, Tim.
We must ensure that guns are kept
out of everyday public places, because guns don't belong in our
schools, shopping malls, or sports stadiums.
And we must make Illinois safer by
strengthening background checks and requiring gun owners to report
lost or stolen guns.
I want to salute Cook County Board
President Toni Preckwinkle, State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, and
Mayor Rahm Emanuel for their leadership on this issue.
We also must empower our law
enforcement to keep guns from falling into the wrong hands. That
means we need reliable mental health records.
For years, counties across our
state have not been reporting their mental health records to the
Illinois State Police. This year, we need every county to step up
and do its part to ensure mental health records are updated in real
And if there is one thing we can
learn from Newtown, it is that we can never rest when it comes to
Last month, I convened a School
Safety Summit with education, public safety, mental health and law
enforcement leaders to identify better ways to protect our schools.
Our students and teachers can never
be too prepared. That's why we should pass legislation that will
require every school in our state to practice active safety drills
that will prepare them for even the worst.
Our Public Safety Agenda is both
comprehensive and common sense. Together, we can get it done.
That's our Illinois.
EMBRACING ALL PEOPLE
We also believe in an Illinois
where people from all walks of life are welcome.
And over the past four years, we
have made major strides towards achieving this vision of a more
We share the belief that everyone
deserves an opportunity to follow their dreams and reach their full
But four years ago, there was no
scholarship program for high school graduates from immigrant
families. We changed that by creating the Illinois Dream Commission.
And this year, that Commission will start awarding scholarships to
dreamers across Illinois.
And just a few days ago, we made
history in Illinois, becoming the fifth state in the Union to
legalize driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants. This will
make our roads safer and our families stronger. Thank you,
Representative Eddie Acevedo and the entire Latino Caucus.
Four years ago, Illinois lagged
behind the nation in providing community care to people with
developmental disabilities and mental health challenges.
We were institutionalizing more
people than any other state, even though community care has been
proven to provide a better quality of life.
So we are changing that. We're
committed to making sure all our citizens -- regardless of the
challenges they face -- have the opportunity to reach their full
That's why we closed outdated
institutions -- and we invested in community care.
We invested in people.
People like Eddy Fleming are now
thriving with a better, more independent life.
After 12 years of living at a state
institution, Eddy recently moved to a community home. He chooses
what he wants to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. He goes
shopping, he walks around his neighborhood, and he practices guitar
on his porch.
Eddy makes his own choices and
chases his own dreams. That's our Illinois.
And I am pleased to announce today
that, because of our commitment, Illinois will soon receive
significant new resources to provide supportive housing for people
These resources will provide not
only a roof over their heads... but also the skills training,
counseling, and services they need to become productive members of
And we're not done yet.
We want Illinois to be the nation's
leading employer of people with disabilities.
With your partnership, we can
double the rate of employment for people with disabilities by 2015.
Our Illinois is an "employment
But our Illinois is not a land of
discrimination. Four years ago, nobody thought civil unions would be
Today, civil unions are the law of
our state. And nearly 5,200 couples across 94 counties have joined
in a civil union.
Now, it's time to take that next
step in achieving full equality.
Marriage equality is coming to
Illinois. And yesterday was a great start in the Senate Executive
I want to thank Senator Heather
Steans and Representative Greg Harris for their work to move
Illinois forward. Let's pass this bill for marriage equality.
In our Illinois, we embrace the
voices... and the votes... of all people. Our democracy is strongest
when more voters raise their voices at the ballot box.
That's why Illinois should join 15
other states in making voter registration available online. We must
move our election process into the 21st century.
And while we're at it, let's pass a
long overdue law to allow voters to participate in primary elections
without having to publicly declare their party affiliation.
That's our Illinois.
And in our Illinois, consumers are
protected. Everyone in the marketplace deserves a fair shake.
Four years ago, runaway bankers
brought the Illinois economy to its knees.
These shady operators peddled risky
mortgage loan products -- costing far too many people their homes.
We must protect our homeowners from
this kind of fraud and abuse.
Thank you, Senator Jackie Collins
and former Representative Karen Yarbrough, for your legislation to
help people who are facing foreclosure. I will proudly sign your
bill into law later this week.
In our Illinois, we do not forget
about our hardest hit families during their time of need.
That's why we've helped 6,550
families in 92 counties stay in their homes through our Hardest Hit
program. And more than half a million families received counseling
and other resources through the Illinois Foreclosure Prevention
Network that I launched last year.
But there's much more to do. We
want to help more families in the year to come.
A fair shake for consumers also
means protection from unfair rates and practices by big utility
Thirty years ago, I spearheaded a
referendum campaign which created the Illinois Citizens Utility
Board, our watchdog over the utility giants. Since then, CUB has
reduced utility rate hikes and won billions of dollars in refunds
Now more than ever, we need a
strong Citizens Utility Board and a strong Illinois Commerce
That's why I'm nominating a proven
advocate for the public interest, Miguel del Valle, to serve on the
Illinois Commerce Commission. Thanks for your service, Miguel.
In our Illinois, government belongs
to the people, not to the office holders.
Citizens should be able at all
times to trust their elected officials.
Four years ago, Illinois was the
Wild West of campaign fundraising.
And it showed.
We had a corrupt governor removed
from office and headed to prison, and another already in prison,
both for fundraising abuses. This was not our Illinois.
So we changed it. We passed a
strong ethics code for office holders and public employees.
For the first time in history, we
enacted campaign contribution limits.
And we gave the people of Illinois
the ability to use the power of petition to recall a corrupt
But our constant mission to restore
integrity to Illinois government cannot end here. We have more work
In 1976, I led a petition drive to
ban conflict of interest voting in the General Assembly. 635,158
voters signed this petition -- the greatest number of signatures
ever gathered on a single petition in Illinois history.
Silence about conflict of interest
voting wasn't our Illinois then, and it's not our Illinois now. We
can do better.
Conflicts of interest are regulated
all over: from the Illinois Supreme Court, to right here in the
And more than 30 states have banned
conflict of interest voting.
Illinois should too.
With this reform, we can keep
moving towards a state government that always puts the people first,
and a government that tackles the tough issues, no matter how hard.
And that brings us back to the
toughest of issues: the public pension system which, left
unreformed, is squeezing out education, public safety, and other
vital services to the tune of $17 million a day.
In our communities, that squeeze
looks like Crete-Monee District 201 eliminating art, music and PE
classes for grade schoolers.
In DuPage High School District 88,
it looks like larger class sizes and less attention for students.
And across Illinois, it looks like
credit downgrades and fewer roads and bridges repaired.
This is not our Illinois.
In the last four years, we have
created jobs, invested in our public works, and enacted major
We've helped our auto industry
recover, with Chrysler in Belvidere going from 200 jobs when I first
took office to more than 4,500 jobs today.
And we're bringing our economy
back, lowering unemployment from 11.4 percent at the peak of the
Great Recession to 8.7 percent today.
But we have a long way to go.
And we cannot allow our economic
recovery to be held hostage by the pension crisis.
We simply must act.
Our vision for our Illinois cannot
be fully realized without pension reform.
This problem cannot be delayed,
deferred, or delegated to the next session... to the next
President Cullerton, thank you for
recognizing this, and thank you for your leadership in providing us
a path forward through Senate Bill 1, a comprehensive bill that
stabilizes our pension systems and fixes the problem.
And thank you, Leader Tom Cross and
Representative Elaine Nekritz for working together on a bi-partisan
basis to make sure that pension reform is Job One for this General
I urge all of you to be part of the
solution. And while refinements may come, Senate Bill 1 is the best
vehicle to get the job done.
Hard is not impossible.
Last year was an election year, but
many of you in this chamber did not let that stop you from working
together to reduce our Medicaid liability by $2 billion. That wasn't
easy to do with a $14 billion program, but you did the right thing.
You also worked with me to abolish
the much-abused legislative scholarship program. That program was
around for more than 100 years... but you did the right thing.
And when I proposed closing 54
facilities across Illinois to save taxpayers millions of dollars,
some of you weren't happy... but we got it done... because it was
the right thing to do.
As you look around this chamber,
please realize: you are the answer. What we all need in this coming
session is courage, real political courage to do the right thing.
We don't need to look any further
for examples of courage than our men and women in uniform.
Men like Sergeant Tyler Ziegel, a
proud Marine who grew up in Metamora, Illinois.
On Christmas Eve 2004, Ty suffered
massive and disfiguring injuries when a suicide bomber attacked near
his vehicle in Iraq.
Like so many of his fellow Wounded
Warriors, Ty fought back. He fought back through 59 surgeries and
untold emotional scars to become an advocate for veterans and
Last December, Sergeant Tyler
Ziegel died in an accident. May his immortal soul rest in peace. He
was a good Marine -- Semper Fi -- and a man I was proud to know.
If our service members can summon
that kind of courage day after day, then surely we can summon
political courage in the days to come.
With courage, hard is not
We are not a state -– we are not a
people -– that shies away from hard things.
Not in the Land of Lincoln... that
Illinoisan who showed the whole country and all posterity what's
possible when commitment and integrity are brought to bear.
Together, we can guide Illinois
safely through this pension challenge that we face.
And we can continue to make our
Illinois a reality.
An Illinois whose people and
An Illinois which lives up to its
proud history and which would make Abraham Lincoln himself proud.
An Illinois in which the will of
the people is the law of the land.
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