By Ashley Griffin
As Gov. Pat Quinn presented his take on the status of the state today, lawmakers and business leaders said they were listening specifically for the governor’s plan to grow Illinois’ economy.
Quinn gave them the Illinois Jobs Agenda for 2012, which includes three-targeted tax cuts for the state’s working families, employers and veterans.
“We owe it to the next generation to continue our progress of the past three years,” Quinn said in his speech. “To create jobs and grow our economy, we must continue to invest in Illinois and help everyday people.”
The plan aims to permanently abolish the natural gas utility tax in Illinois; establish a child tax credit for parents, which would provide a $100 direct tax credit for the average family of four; and create a tax credit for companies that hire unemployed veterans.
The governor’s budget office estimates that abolishing the natural gas utility tax will provide $164 million in savings for families, the child tax credit will provide $130 million in savings for parents raising children and the tax credit to hire veterans will provide $5 million to $10 million in savings for employers. The total cost would be about $300 million. Quinn’s budget spokesperson, Kelly Kraft, said the governor would lay out how he plans to pay for the agenda when he delivers his budget address later this month.
“The governor and the General Assembly have been good in the past couple of sessions in giving us the kind of tools we need, but we have to be able to put more disposable income into the hands of our working families, and we have to put our veterans back to work. They’re good incentives that will help both business and families and create jobs,” said Warren Ribley, director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
But some lawmakers are skeptical of the plan.
“We don’t have any money. All these sound good, but we can't afford them,” said House Minority Leader Tom Cross. “That’s what is disturbing … the failure to acknowledge the gravity of the situation.”
“He imposes a 67 percent tax increase, extracting one week’s pay out of every family and business, and yet he turns around and tries to pretend to provide some sort of relief without having any meaningful reform,” said Sen. Bill Brady, a Republican from Bloomington. “I am sure I can support all of them because they are needed, but he’s not hitting the core of what we need to hit, and that is eliminating the deficit and the debt in order to bring jobs back to Illinois,”
Members of the business community supported some of Quinn’s ideas. “He touched on some new areas that we were surprised by, most particularly the idea of reducing the cost of doing business in Illinois by repealing the utility tax. … That should be a real job benefit to a lot of companies that are heavy users of natural gas,” said Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce. “All in all, the Illinois Chamber was very pleased.”
However, some said they did not hear everything they were hoping for. “Certainly he set a tone that was positive. Talking about jobs is always a good thing,” said Todd Maisch, vice president of government affairs for the state Chamber of Commerce. He said he was disappointed that Quinn did not bring up reforms to the way the state judicial system handles medical malpractice suits, something that has long been on the wish list of many business organizations.
Maisch added that that some of the reforms Quinn counted as victories still need work. “I would say probably the most troubling was the notion that workers comp and unemployment insurance are reforms that are done. We have not scratched the surface. Those need to get back on the agenda and in a hurry.”