Gov. Quinn: State has chance to make real changes
Gov. Pat Quinn is causing a stir in state government with his budget plan and push to reorganize agencies and clean up corruption. He said Thursday he isn’t backing down, even if it means his political fortunes turn south.
“If you want to call me an accidental governor, so be it. But as long as I’m here, this may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really change things,” Quinn told The State Journal-Register’s editorial board.
In a wide-ranging interview that lasted more than an hour, Quinn touched on the budget, ethics, construction and other issues while stressing his challenge as the state’s chief executive.
“I’m the repairman. I’ve got to mend the flaws,” Quinn said.
Quinn said that by next week, he will either use executive authority or announce a legislative push to move agencies that now regulate horse racing, liquor licenses, riverboat casinos and the state Lottery out from the oversight of the Department of Revenue.
“I think they should be independent regulators. I think there’s just more attention paid when they’re out there answering for themselves,” Quinn said.
He’s also planning to combine the agencies overseeing historic sites and parks to take advantage of common interest in the two.
The governor plans to focus next on filling vacancies at state boards and commissions, including possible shakeups in personnel.
Quinn’s budget plan has angered both lawmakers and powerful interest groups by proposing to fix an $11.6 billion budget hole with a mix of spending cuts and tax and fee increases. He again challenged critics to step up with a realistic alternative.
“If you don’t have a better plan, then don’t chirp on the sidelines. Get in the arena and tell us your plan, the whole plan,” Quinn said.
The governor said the state can’t afford the pension system it offers now to state employees, and all Illinoisans have to give up a little to correct such deep spending problems.
“There is going to have to be some pain. Everybody will have to share in that pain,” Quinn said.
Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, said cutting pension benefits doesn’t erase past debts and that it’s not fair to ask employees to suffer when less-painful options are possible.
“A fair budget is one that puts Illinois on stable footing going forward, funds essential services and pays the state's bills. Quinn's proposal is a step in the right direction, but it doesn't raise enough revenue to reach the goal,” Lindall said.
Quinn hopes by the end of next week that lawmakers will approve taking money out of the state’s road fund and using that to borrow “billions of dollars” that can then match federal money waiting for transportation projects.
That would be the first step of his larger $26 billion construction program, which he proposes paying for with higher driver’s fees. Quinn wants legislative approval of the first stage before lawmakers go on a two-week Easter break.
The governor expects lawmakers will respond to ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s arrest and ouster with significant ethics reform. But if they don’t by the end of May, he’ll push a petition drive for a referendum from voters to get that done.
“It’s imperative that I lead the charge to get the strongest ethics we can to clean up corruption,” Quinn said. “I hope I don’t have to use it, but we will do it. "
Quinn supports legislation that would no longer require voters to declare a party preference when voting in primary elections. He sees no reason why Republican central committeemen shouldn’t be elected but sees why some Republicans protest those ideas being tied together in legislation by Democrats.
“I think it’s a little cynical. There maybe is too much of that in Springfield,” Quinn said.
The governor also said U.S. Sen. Roland Burris should answer questions about his involvement with a financially troubled funeral fund but did not call for Comptroller Dan Hynes to release some records about its oversight of the fund. The State Journal-Register has pushed for access in both cases.
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