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Quinn speech draws out bipartisan concerns

Wed, 06 Feb 2013 17:19:16 CST
By: Willis Kern

One thing Governor Quinn and the opponent he defeated in the 2010 election can agree on is it's long past time to fix Illinois' public pension system. Bloomington Republican Bill Brady, who is likely to make a third bid for the Governor's mansion next year, says it's too early to tell if the senate proposal Quinn singled out in his speech will take care of the problem.

"The people who've earned a pension deserve it. The citizens of Illinois deserve a solution. It effects every area of state government. SB1 is one we are considering and I am continuing to evaluate.

Likely Republican candidate for governor Dan Rutherford says fixing the public pension system should be the state's top priority. The current State Treasurer says any other priorities of the governor and lawmakers should be way down the list.

"But I gotta tell you, there's not anything at all, not one single action the general assembly and the governor can do to make Illinois a better place than what it is than by addressing this pension issue."

Rutherford, who is weighing his political options for next year, says he's against raising taxes and more borrowing to fix pensions which he says leaves massive budget cuts. Rutherford says that's not likely given the make-up of leadership in Springfield, so he advocates pension reform for non-retirees. Democratic State Senator Dave Koehler of Peoria says he's also looking closely at SB1, introduced last month by Senate Majority Leader John Cullerton. But Koehler says it's far from perfect. He says a better fix would be to tap into six-figure pensions and leave those earned through smaller salaries alone.

"Just in terms of people being able to work 25-30 years in their lives and knowing that what we promised them is there is an important contract that we have."

Koehler also questions Cullerton's plan to merge two pension proposals into one bill so that if the constitutionality of one is struck down the other can take effect. He calls that process "strange."

Central Illinois Republican State Senator Jason Barickman says Quinn talks a lot about pension reform but consistently fails to deliver needed leadership.

"He's not out there working with legislators to actually enact some of those proposals that have been put forward. He's not pushing his party and his party, quite frankly, has super-majority votes in both chambers."

There is little support for Governor Quinn's proposal to boost the minimum wage in Illinois to $10 an hour. Business groups are opposed and Koehler says it would be too risky to take on such a measure.

"I think our recovery is still taking place. The economy is still very fragile. I would not want to do anything that would really create a job loss in our communities."

Koehler says he does support Quinn's efforts to get families out of poverty within four years. Brady says he also supports higher wages for heads of households. But Brady says hiking the minimum wage only hurts young workers who can accept lower paying, part time jobs.

"Often times actions create a hardship on, say a college student who might be trying to earn a little extra money to support their tuition at a sandwich shop. His failure to understand the complexities of it I think deserve a great deal of question."

The Illinois Chamber of Commerce says raising the minimum wage is ``an untimely, ill-advised and outrageous proposal.'' Quinn says nobody should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty. The federal rate has been $7.25 an hour since 2007.

Governor Quinn also repeated his call for an assault weapons ban to help reduce gun violence. Koehler says that amounts to "feelgood" legislation that probably wouldn't accomplish a lot.

"We need to not just be taking a knee jerk reaction to this. We need to be doing something that actually helps prevent violence in our communities."

Koehler says Governor Quinn should re-focus on root causes of gun violence such as mental health issues and crime initiatives. Brady agrees and says gun control no longer is an issue that splits Illinois geographically. He says even Chicago residents are concerned about legal threats to legitimate gun owners.

"What is an assualt weapon? What are we banning? The fact of the matter is we need to enforce the laws and give people the right to protect themselves."

During his speech, Quinn said assault weapons don't belong in everyday public places like schools, shopping malls or sports stadiums. He says lawmakers should also pass legislation requiring every Illinois school to practice active safety drills.

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