Observations and comments about state government by State Representative Robert W. Pritchard.
The General Assembly began its spring session this week with a few committee meetings, bill filings and the Governor’s State of the State address. Usually the Governor’s address sets out his legislative agenda, concerns and suggestions for legislators and the citizens of our state.
The Governor began his comments by reviewing significant legislative reforms last year concerning Medicaid, pensions, worker compensation, unemployment insurance and education. He listed many capital projects through the Illinois Jobs Now! program that are repairing and modernizing the state’s infrastructure and are so important to retaining and attracting business. The Governor set the focus on putting people to work and growing our economy as ways for Illinois to climb out of its fiscal mire.
By this time most legislative heads were nodding in agreement and I was attentive thinking perhaps the Governor was about to layout a realistic plan to achieve his dream. What came next amazed everyone.
With the state unable to pay its bills, facing mountains of debt and seeing much of its revenue consumed by pension and Medicaid payments, the Governor proposed spending hundreds of millions of dollars on new programs. He then went on to propose three tax cuts which were key to his Illinois Jobs Agenda for 2012. Perhaps he now sees that the largest tax increase in history passed last year was too much.
The Governor never mentioned the Civic Federation’s report about how the state’s unpaid bills will total more than our revenue in just five years. Nor did he mention Moody’s downgrade of the state’s credit rating to the lowest in the nation due to its failure to control spending. I guess these will be topics for his budget address later this month.
A More Necessary Jobs Agenda
While Governor Quinn used his State of the State address to dream about Illinois, the Legislature will need to be more pragmatic. Given that Illinois is in the 48th worst financial position of the 50 states, I am urging the Legislature to examine all of the areas that could improve our situation.
The Illinois Chamber of Commerce offered some reasonable starting points recently. They say the Legislature should commit to passing a balanced budget. We must lower the spending trajectory for pension payments, Medicaid benefits, and correctional institutions among many such important programs.
The Chamber goes on to say the Legislature should continue its attack on the high costs of doing business in Illinois. I agree that further reforms are needed in worker compensation, changes must be made to reduce frivolous lawsuits, and regulations that slow down normal business actions must be modified.
Employers are looking for high-quality workers and despite high unemployment, too many employers say they can’t find workers with the skills they need. The Chamber encourages businesses to be more engaged in their community schools. Our economy is global and our workforce must compete globally. Our educational approach must change.
Finally, the Chamber urges the Legislature to recognize that economic development and job growth occur with favorable public policies. The Legislature should take whatever steps it can to eliminate barriers and regulations that slow efficiencies and responsiveness of agencies. International trade is important to the state’s economy and our programs to promote trade must be reviewed for their effectiveness.
This year will be critical for making the right policies to improve our economy. We must support a proactive jobs agenda.
Illinois Unemployment Lags National Recovery
The Governor made mention in his State of the State address that the national recession has contributed to Illinois job loss and was caused by greed and disgraceful conduct. Perhaps he should have added failed Illinois policies for our high unemployment.
The Illinois Policy Institute recently reported that 46 states have grown jobs over the past year while three did not. Guess who is dead last. Illinois unemployment rose from 9 percent to 9.8 while nearly all states were reducing unemployment.
The Governor was critical of other states that have cut spending, made reforms to employee and healthcare benefits, and passed legislation to grow their economies. Perhaps we should judge their efforts by their job numbers.
Our state cannot afford to be satisfied with the reforms made last year and the policy course we are following. Business as usual this legislative session will keep Illinois last and our economy from growing.
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