By Kevin McDermott and Kathleen Foody
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Wednesday took credit for what he described as sweeping governmental reform during his first year in office, while acknowledging his state’s continuing “financial calamity.”
But in his first formal State of the State address since assuming command of Illinois’ scandal-rocked, debt-ridden government in January 2009, Quinn said virtually nothing new about his plans to address that issue, which include a proposed state income tax hike.
Instead, with just three weeks remaining until he defends his seat in the state Feb. 2 primaries, he sought to make the case that he has earned a full term for his handling of the ethical and fiscal labyrinth left by indicted and impeached ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich.
“I assumed this office under the most difficult of circumstances,” Quinn reminded lawmakers and other government dignitaries gathered in the Illinois House chamber. “In the past year we’ve worked together … to win the trust of the people.”
Quinn, a Democrat and former lieutenant governor, took office Jan. 29, after Blagojevich was removed from office over corruption allegations and other issues.
Quinn generally enjoyed the good will of both parties during his first six months in office. But the response even from the majority Democratic House and Senate members to Wednesday’s speech was muted, with few break-out applause moments.
Though he wasn’t specific, Quinn appeared to stand by his controversial proposal to raise the state’s income tax by 50 percent, while strengthening credits and deductions to prevent that hike from hitting the most vulnerable taxpayers.
“We have to make sure that everyone is listening to the truth … (about) the worst financial calamity that Illinois has ever had,” he said, referencing the state’s estimated $11 billion budget deficit.
State Comptroller Dan Hynes, Quinn’s chief rival for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination next month, chided Quinn for what he said was a failure to provide a detailed new approach to the budget crisis or any other issue. Republican leaders echoed that criticism.
“I think the governor has struggled. I believe that he is a good and honest person, but quite frankly I haven’t seen a lot of leadership, and unfortunately that’s what we desperately need,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno of Lemont, who called Quinn’s speech “woefully lacking detail.”