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Quinn targets minimum wage boost, education

MORRIS – Gov. Pat Quinn’s State of the State Address delivered Wednesday overflowed with optimism and promises as he outlined the direction he wants Illinois to take in 2014.

The governor talked of raising minimum wage to $10, starting a new “Bright to Five” early education program and doubling the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit. He also trumpeted his reform efforts through the past five years by stressing the state is “getting the job done” more than 15 times in the half-hour speech.

“Exactly five years ago this day, I was sworn in as governor, at Illinois’ darkest moment,” Quinn said. “But over the past five years, we’ve rebuilt one hard step at a time.”

Whether the governor can secure the funding needed to follow through with his ideas is something local lawmakers doubt.

“We have a lot of good ideas, however we, at this point, can’t afford them,” state Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said before the governor’s speech. “We still have a very large backlog of bills, and in three years, it’s projected that our backlog of bills will hit $16 billion.”

Quinn proposed a five-year plan centered on job creation, early education improvements and stimulating the state’s economy.

The governor proposed lowering the LLC fee for local business owners from $500 to $39. He also issued an executive order to create a new position for a Small Business Advocate who would analyze the impact of policy on small business owners.

Caroline Portlock, executive director of the Grundy County Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said while she thinks the new small business advocate could be beneficial, she would like to see the state invest more in the small business programs already in place.

“We already have several great programs,” Portlock said. “To throw those to the side and create a new position doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Then again, we’ll take all the help they want to give.”

On the education front, Quinn proposed to double the amount of Monetary Award Program grants issued to Illinois college students and outlined a new program that would guarantee prenatal care for all mothers and a pre-kindergarden education for all children.

“The next five years, we will work with our community partners – schools, hospitals and faith-based organizations – to identify expectant mothers and connect them to prenatal services,” Quinn said. “Now is the time to get the job done for Illinois’ littlest.”

The governor also announced he would invest in a new “bio-hub” for the life science industry and extend funding to further upgrade outdated water systems. He claimed the investments would create new jobs.

The governor mentioned the recent pension reform, calling it “the tallest task of all,” but glazed over Illinois’ high unemployment rate – currently one of the highest in the nation at 8.6 percent – by reminding listeners that unemployment is at its lowest point in five years.

Rezin said she was most disappointed in the governor’s failure to talk about changing the state’s current job landscape.

“The most important fact that he did not talk about is that Illinois is last in the nation in job growth,” Rezin said.

She also said she was unimpressed with the governor’s promise to raise minimum wage, believing it is an ineffective way to bring people out of poverty.

“We have one of the highest minimum wages, but continue to have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country so there’s not that correlation,” Rezin said.

State Rep. Kate Cloonen, D-Kankakee, supported the governor, but stressed that the state will need to do more to fix its current financial situation.

“The path the governor is attempting to take us down is not enough to get Illinois back to work and put our fiscal house in order,” Cloonen said in a news release. “We must produce a balanced budget.”

State Rep. John Anthony, R-Plainfield, could not be reached before press time.

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