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1 year, 6 months ago by Scott Reeder, Illinois News Network

Sen. Sullivan opposes governor's minimum wage increase

SPRINGFIELD – Has Illinois weathered the fiscal storm?

That’s what Gov. Pat Quinn contended in Wednesday’s State of the State address, but his Republican rivals said the Land of Lincoln remains mired in a maelstrom of economic woes.

“He put some perfume on the pig,” said gubernatorial hopeful state Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale. “We are rated 50th in economic outlook by two national surveys. I’m concerned about what he didn’t say. What are his plans to roll back the 67 percent income tax increase? After all, he promised that it would be temporary.”

But State Sen. Kwame Raoul, D-Chicago, said Quinn faced unprecedented challenges when he assumed the governorship and has performed admirably. He said Quinn has helped the state recover from many of the problems inflicted by Rod Blagojevich.

Quinn said, “Exactly five years ago this day, I was sworn in as governor, at Illinois’ darkest moment. We were facing an unprecedented triple crisis of government corruption, economic collapse and financial instability.”

He added, “Over the past five years, we’ve rebuilt one hard step at a time. And we’ve been getting the job done. Illinois is making a comeback.”

The claim of a comeback was greeted with a dose of skepticism by state Treasurer and GOP gubernatorial hopeful Dan Rutherford of Chenoa.

“The projection on unemployment going forward is not a comeback,” he said. “Our unemployment is lower than it was sometime before, but so is the entire United States of America. We are woefully lacking in regards to our trend in moving unemployment.”

Financier Bruce Rauner, another GOP gubernatorial hopeful, echoed Dillard and Rutherford’s sentiments.

“We have entered an economic death spiral, and Governor Quinn is trying to cover it up,” Rauner said. “Here's the issue: We're one of the worst-run states in America. Companies are leaving, jobs are leaving, we have one of the highest unemployment rates in America. We are neck and neck with New Jersey for net out-migration, our taxes are up, our jobs are down, our debts and deficits are chasing businesses out of the state. Pat Quinn has failed us.”

But Quinn said things have improved and will continue to improve with the help of government.

The governor, who is seeking re-election, renewed his call for raising the state’s minimum wage from its current level of $8.25 per hour to $10.  And he called for mandating that all employers provide employees with at least two paid sick days each year.

“Raising wages for workers who are doing some of the hardest jobs in our society is not just the right thing to do. It’s also good for our economy,” he said.

But the Republican leaders in the House and Senate say their caucuses oppose a minimum wage hike because it could increase the state’s unemployment.

“Illinois has the third highest unemployment rate in the nation, right now, and piling a burden like this on top of our businesses is just going to make matters worse,” said Kim Clarke Maisch, who heads the Illinois chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business.

State Sen. John Sullivan, D-Rushville, said the move also would put Illinois at a competitive disadvantage.

“The minimum wage is already lower in Missouri and Iowa than it is in Illinois, and if we increase it again it's going to be even harder to keep those workers," he said.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said Quinn’s call for upping the minimum wage is nothing more than “gotcha politics.”

“We are not unsympathetic to the fact that people are making very low wages,” said state Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno of Lemont. “The questions are: Why aren’t people moving into higher wage jobs? How do we create those jobs? And how do we match the talent with these jobs?”

Quinn called for doubling the number of college scholarships available to financially needy students and for expanding early childhood education programs throughout Illinois.

But he did not say how much these initiatives would cost or how he would pay for them.

“Our state actually leads the nation in the number of 3-year-olds attendingpreschool,” the governor said. “But the status quo is not enough. Not even close. The reality is, more than a third of our youngest and most vulnerable children don’t have the opportunity to attend early learning programs before they enter kindergarten. And that’s unacceptable.”

Sullivan said Quinn’s remarks took him off guard.

"I was a little surprised at some of the expansion of programs, given that we're looking at a huge reduction in revenue," he said.

Most of the state’s 67 percent tax increase is slated to expire in January 2015. Quinn did not say whether he will push to extend the tax increase.

“It’s the elephant in the middle of the room that no one is talking about,” Radogno said.

State Rep. Jeanne Ives, R-Wheaton, said the governor failed to put a price tag on his expanded programs and never even mentioned the word “taxes.”

“If you are a business person out there, this has to frighten you. He wants to expand government, but he won’t say how he will pay for it. That’s not good,” she said.

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson, D-Olympia Fields, said, “I’m just waiting with baited breath to see what the governor is going to do with the income tax increase. … I don’t know how we are going to deal with the needs of state government if we are also dealing with a $5.6 billion loss in state revenue.”

State Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon, called Quinn’s speech mostly political rather than policymaking.

“All it was is a stump speech that a normal politician or campaigner would use during the summer or the fall to get elected,” he said. “I’m disappointed he didn’t take the time to validate the stats he used to say that Illinois is moving forward and we need to get behind his programs and policies to keep them moving.”

                                    ----Jes Greene and Brady Cremeens contributed to this report


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