Friday, February 01, 2013
All eyes will be on Governor Quinn February 6, when State Senator Dale Righter says the Governor will deliver his annual State-of-the-State message before a joint session of the legislature.
At this time, Righter said little is known about the direction Quinn’s message will take, though traditionally governors have used the State-of-the-State to deliver upbeat messages about their records, unveil new initiatives and proclaim better days ahead. However, Quinn leads a state where disastrous financial news has become the norm and he will face a legislature where members of both parties seem skeptical of his ability to negotiate the tough times ahead.
Pension reform likely to be discussed
Although rising costs in Illinois' retirement systems for teachers and other public employees threaten to bury other areas of state government and drive the state's credit rating even lower, Gov. Quinn has been unable to advance needed pension reforms for well over a year.
Lawmakers are anxious to hear how the Governor proposes to address the problem, wondering if Quinn will finally unveil his own plan for reforms or offer a roadmap for fixing the problem.
Republican legislative leaders have consistently supported reform. One bipartisan pension proposal won approval in the Senate last year with significant Republican support, but was never called for a vote in the Illinois House. The Senate President has filed his own pension proposal, which was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Executive Committee Feb. 5.
Senate Republicans hoping for an update on Medicaid reform
The model for cooperation on pension reform could be similar to the landmark Medicaid reforms approved during the 2012 legislative session by bipartisan majorities. In fact, Senator Righter joins many lawmakers who are awaiting an update on the implementation of those reforms.
Righter explained the success of the 2012 Medicaid reforms in bringing costs under control is contingent on effective implementation by the Quinn administration. In the fall, Senator Righter drew attention to what appeared to be a delay by the Quinn administration to implement significant portions of the Medicaid reform law. On Wednesday he will be looking for reassurance from the Governor that his office is moving forward with the reforms.
If the administration fails to reach targets set out in the reforms it would dig an even deeper hole in the state's current year budget and make next year's budget even more difficult to balance.
Will Quinn pursue more borrowing?
The state’s daunting fiscal challenges prompt concerns from Senator Righter that the Governor will take advantage of new Democrat super-majorities in both the Senate and House, and attempt to revive efforts to borrow additional revenue to finance state spending.
In past years, Republican lawmakers have successfully blocked new borrowing schemes because a super-majority vote is needed to increase state debt. However, Democrats now hold super-majorities in both chambers and could push through a borrowing plan without Republican support.
Governor may continue to press for gun control legislation
There is also speculation that the Governor may devote a significant part of his speech to promoting gun control. Major new restrictions on semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips failed to get off the ground in the January lame-duck session.
At the same time, a court ruling that Illinois must join 49 other states in allowing its citizens some form of right-to-carry firearms legislation. Balancing the conflicting interests of gun control and Second Amendment advocates will likely prove difficult during the coming spring legislative session.
Senator Righter has said he will not support any legislation that violates American citizens’ collective Second Amendment rights, or that would require Illinois citizens to register their firearms with the Illinois State Police.