Written by The Chicago Defender
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — With Illinois facing the worst pension problem in the nation and its top leaders making little progress toward a solution, expectations are high for Gov. Pat Quinn's annual State of the State address Wednesday before lawmakers.
The noon speech allows the Chicago Democrat to set the tone ahead of his budget address, which will delve into the details of the state's shaky finances and outline priorities for the year. But this address will be under even more scrutiny than usual as Quinn has little to show for progress on his top priority of pensions and Republicans and fellow Democrats are eyeing his seat in the 2014 governor's race.
Quinn has said he will touch on the state's financial problems in the speech and also hinted he will take the chance to remind the public of anti-corruption efforts in his four years in office. Both of Quinn's predecessors — George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich — went to prison on corruption convictions.
The governor could touch on other topics too, including gay marriage, which is expected to come up for a Senate vote next week, gun control, the environment and possibly immigration.
The speech is also Quinn's best chance to boast of accomplishments, something he's done before. Last year, he spoke for 34 minutes focusing largely on positive elements like a climbing employment rate and tougher ethics laws.
But lawmakers, political experts and union members agreed that they're looking for direction from Quinn on what to do next with pensions.
Quinn has been intensely focused on addressing the state's roughly $100 billion pension problem; however, efforts at reform have failed. Quinn called a special session on the topic last year, started his own public campaign through Facebook and Twitter, and set several deadlines for lawmakers. Most recently, lawmakers left their lame-duck session last month without calling for a vote on any last-ditch effort.
Pressure from unions ramped up Tuesday when roughly 100 members of a state worker union rallied in the lobby of a downtown Chicago office building where Quinn and other state leaders have offices, calling out the governor with signs reading, "Gov. Quinn Keep Your Word." The union opposes any reductions to retirement benefits — a central theme in pension talks.