UPDATED 02/01/12 5:10 p.m.
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (CBS) — Gov. Pat Quinn called for a comprehensive job creation program in his State of the State Address Wednesday.
Quinn said the state has come a long way since the dark time three years ago when he took office
“We are back on course, and Illinois is moving forward,” he said.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio Political Editor Craig Dellimore reports
But Quinn said much more still needs to be done to keep the state moving forward, particularly when it comes to jobs. With that in mind, he is launching a comprehensive program called the Illinois Jobs Initiative.
In announcing the plan, Quinn said cuts to the state budget would not be enough to get the economy going again.
“Cuts alone will not resolve the situation. We must build and grow our economy. Now is not the time to pull back; to abandon our children, to abandon our parents, and to abandon the unemployed among us,” Quinn said.
As CBS 2 Chief Correspondent Jay Levine reports, the governor outlined a number of noble goals, but gave no clear indication of how the state would pay for his ideas.
Quinn was very specific about how he wants to spend money, but virtually silent on where the state would find the money to pay for that spending.
“I look forward to working with you to find the proper funding to meet these urgent needs,” Quinn told lawmakers after laying out a number of plans, such as ending a state tax on natural gas and creating a new $100 tax credit for Illinois residents with children.
That was as specific as he got to dealing with what some called the elephant in the room.
“There were two elephants in the room,” State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) said. “One is how do we deal with the cost of our pension programs. The other one is how are we gonna deal with the $5 billion in Medicaid liabilities and there’s a third one of $8 billion of unpaid bills that we have to deal with.”
When told his comments sounded more like a Republican than a North Side Democrat, Harris said, “I’m a North Side Democrat, but we all have to deal with all of these problems.”
The governor also called for expanding an existing tax credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans and for boosting spending on a cash-strapped program to provide grants of up to $4,968 to low-income college students.
“Veterans are committed, disciplined and experienced. They know leadership, and they know how to accomplish a mission,” Quinn said.
LISTEN: WBBM Newsradio’s Alex Degman reports
House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) asked how the governor planned to pay for his initiatives.
“They all look and sound good, but to come in and say I want you to spend another $500 million, and in another three weeks he’s going to come in and say I want you to borrow four to five billion dollars to pay bills,” Cross said. “How does that jive? It doesn’t jive. They all sound good, but can you afford them? I think we all know the answer to that.”
The governor outlined what he calls a robust jobs agenda that seeks tax cuts for low income working families and businesses alike, after approving an income tax increase last January. Cross said that’s akin to a business owner raising prices, and then having sales to appear sympathetic to certain groups.
Republican Illinois State Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka, who is responsible for managing the state’s finances, said the governor’s plan “is like a chicken in every pot; lots of pots, no chickens.”
Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) said the governor barely touched on what Republicans believe is the state’s biggest problem: Medicaid and pension reform. Radogno said her party has crafted reform plans to no avail.
“[The ideas] were frankly ridiculed last year by the Senate president and yet they were exactly on target in terms of laying out what the problem was, things we’re willing to talk about in terms of solutions including major pension and Medicaid reform,” she said. “The Democrats, to date, have not chosen to engage.”
The governor said the state must focus on controlling the costs of pensions for state employees, but again offered few specifics how to do so.
“Fixing the pension problem will not be easy, but we have no choice,” Quinn said.
In recent days, unpaid bills, and not investment, have dominated discussions about state finances.
The Civic Federation has warned that the pension debt will balloon to gargantuan proportions if the governor and state lawmakers do not take immediate action. Medicaid costs are also spinning out of control, the Civic Federation said.
Quinn says details about pension reform plans will come in his budget address in a few weeks.
State Rep. Darlene Senger (R-Naperville) said, “It’s one of the largest problems we have and I haven’t heard anybody yet talk about what we’re gonna do to really reform pensions and get rid of that $84 billion liability, which keeps squeezing everything else.”
Controversial issues, such as cuts to Medicaid spending and adjusting benefits for state workers, aren’t often addressed during election years.
Tom Cross says that’s no longer an excuse.
But the governor insisted that there’s a bright side; and pointed to successes in his first three years as Governor.
“From major export growth, and the largest public works construction program in state history, to solid gains in education, we’re back on course and Illinois is moving forward,” Quinn said.
Quinn also called for greater investment in technology and high-tech jobs in Illinois. To that end, the state is investing $2.3 million in 1871, a new technology center at the Merchandise Mart that will foster and launch digital startups.
The state is also launching a $6 million competition to build ultra-high-speed broadband in neighborhoods across the state, Quinn said.
Quinn also called for investment in early childhood education, a bill that would raise to 18 the age at which students can drop out of school, and an investment in classroom infrastructure – including modern laboratories, digital books, high-speed Internet access, and “21st century efficiency.”
Quinn also said the exports are up 30 percent in Illinois this year, and he wants that number to go higher. To that end, the chief executive officer of Navistar will chair a new council charged with doubling the number of exports by 2014, Quinn said.
Quinn also called for investments in upgrades to ensure the entire state has clean water, which would create jobs.
He also announced the creation of an Illinois Foreclosure Prevention network, which will give homeowners the resources they need to stay in their homes.
The governor also launched a lob at states that have scaled back the power of organized labor. The Indiana State Senate approved a controversial right-to-work bill Wednesday, and Gov. Mitch Daniels is expected to sign it.
“Here in Illinois, unlike other states in the Midwest, we believe in the right of working people to organize,” Quinn said. “The hard work of our men and women is why Illinois is moving forward.”
State Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Elmhurst) “I think that the governor’s become a prisoner of his own fantasyland.”
The Governor will return to Springfield next month to present his budget address, which allies hope will deal with the reality of the state’s financial problems.
State Sen. Jeff Schoenberg (D-Evanston) said, “There’s more to come, clearly, in the budget address. The budget address is going to, I think, hopefully lay out how we’re going to pay for the priorities which he set.”
Even fellow Democrat and Senate President John Cullerton gently chided the governor, saying “I look forward to hearing how we can fund these important priorities within a balanced budget.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel steered clear of criticizing the governor, applauding the commitment he shares with Quinn, for, in his words, “creating the conditions that allow companies to grow and families to thrive.”
Emanuel also vowed to join with Quinn to confront those challenges together.