Doug Finke: Gov. Quinn's first budget speech won't make history

Doug Finke

Gov. Pat Quinn delivered his first budget speech last week, and there's a good chance neither the General Assembly nor the voters will listen to him that closely again.

Quinn seemed almost overwhelmed by the continuing applause and how to bring it to a close so he could speak.

"I hope you are (still) applauding at the end of this speech," he said.

They were, albeit a little less enthusiastically. From both a content and delivery mode, the speech wasn't bad, but it won't make you forget any other famous Illinois orators currently working. In fact, the Democrats ought to think about hiring a Ghost Speaker for one of these events.

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When the official budget book is prepared for submission to the General Assembly, the governor adds a letter of submission to go with it.

"I respectfully submit to you the Fiscal Year 2010 Operating Budget, a $53 billion plan that makes difficult but responsible choices, yet maintains a commitment to our priorities during the worst fiscal period in Illinois history," Quinn starts off in his first effort.

"We must confront the effects of a national recession that will likely be the longest and deepest since the Great Depression. This, along with poor fiscal discipline by previous administrations, has left us in a dire financial situation."

Pffffht, to you, Rod.

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In case you missed it, Blagojevich went around saying that the reason he was being impeached is because the entrenched powers that be wanted to raise income taxes and could not do that as long as his heroic carcass was implanted in the governor's office waiting to veto it.

Yes, Blagojevich said as much.

Of course, Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office. Just a few days later, Quinn called for an income tax hike, saying the state needed it. That same day, Blagojevich issued a news release essentially saying, “See? I told you so.”

The guy always oozed class and maturity.

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A certain number of state dignitaries show up in person at budget speeches, a sign they want to be in the public eye, they want to make sure their thoughts about the speech are covered by radio and TV, or they really didn't have anything better to do. The reception they get is a convenient snapshot into their current political pecking order.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan, for example, probably got the loudest cheers of any of statewide officials. She even outdid Secretary of State Jesse White, who's always one of the most popular Illinois officials. Treasurer Alexi Giannoulias also got a warm welcome.

Then there was Comptroller Dan Hynes, they guy who's been out front for weeks about the continued deterioration of the state's finances, even when some other officials were pooh-poohing just how bad things were getting. You could call his reception "cordial" at best.

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A couple of weeks ago, some top Republican lawmakers said they still prefer to see a state public works construction program financed with gambling expansion rather than raising general taxes like the gasoline tax.

That's all well and good, except gambling revenue has taken a hit during the recession, which would limit the size of the construction program you could pay for. Also, how many years have lawmakers been talking about paying for a construction program with expanded gambling money? Has the program ever passed? Will it ever as long as every gambling interest in the state insists on having a piece of the action, something that tends to scuttle gambling bills before they ever have a chance to pass?

Last week, though, Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, had an interesting take on gambling expansion. Cullerton is in favor of expanded gambling. He thinks the state can get some badly needed cash from it, especially by reworking the state lottery.

He suggested that not tying gambling to the capital program may be just the thing both of them need.  The gambling people know they've probably got just one chance to get everything they want, be it horse racing or riverboats or whatever. That's whey they put the squeeze on to get everything at once and lawmakers are willing to go along.

Separate construction from gambling and the pressure is off both issues. It’ll be interesting to see if it works.

Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527 or doug.finke@sj-r.com.