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WJBD - Local News - State of State: Quinn Says He's Rebuilding Illinois One Hard Step at a Time

State of State: Quinn Says He's Rebuilding Illinois One Hard Step at a Time

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) - Gov. Pat Quinn says he's worked to rebuild Illinois "one hard step at a time" since he took office five years ago. 

The Chicago Democrat marked his five years in office Wednesday during his annual State of the State address. It's also the anniversary of when lawmakers removed his predecessor from office. Ex-Gov. Rod Blagojevich is now serving a federal prison sentence for corruption.   Quinn says he's helped restore integrity to state government. He's also heralding the legalization of same-sex marriage in Illinois.

Quinn says approving a landmark pension overhaul last year took "political courage" and was painful. Quinn says Illinois has now "stopped the bleeding" with its fiscal problems. 

Quinn focused part of his State of the State address on Illinois' business climate. The Chicago Democrat says he will create a new position in his office that will focus on advocating for small businesses.  The advocate will advise Quinn on issues and help start and grow businesses.   The Governor also called for reducing a filing fee to create a limited liability company to $39 from its current fee of $500. That's among the highest in the nation.  Quinn's office says he will propose legislation intended to reduce Illinois' fee to the lowest in the nation. The idea is to make it easier for small businesses to get started.

Quinn announced a $1 billion extension of a loan program designed to upgrade old water systems.  He says a sound infrastructure is critical to a strong economy.   He says the program will create 28,000 jobs.  The program first started in 2012 under Quinn's administration. Officials said that the state had one of the largest backlogs of drinking water repairs nationwide. The state has received about 91 applications worth more than $1 billion in requests.

The Governor promoted a new Chicago center that will open later this year to help start medical technology companies.  The Democrat says the so-called "bio-hub" will drive economic growth.   Officials with the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity say the idea is to help entrepreneurs and prospective investors. The center will be modeled after 1871, a Chicago hub for digital startups that officials say created 800 jobs during its first year. The project also will receive a $1 million loan from either DCEO or the Illinois Finance Authority.

Quinn called for doubling the number of monetary award program scholarships for college students. He says it's part of his goal of making sure that 60 percent of the adult workforce in Illinois has a degree or career certificate by 2025.  Quinn says MAP scholarships currently help 140,000 students go to college. It's a need-base scholarship.  The governor feels by increasing the amount of money available to for the grants, the state can ensure that "deserving students in need are equipped to excel in the 21st Century workplace."

Quinn also proposed beefing up early education in Illinois.  He didn't detail how much money the initiative will cost or how it will be run. He says he wants to increase access to prenatal care, early learning and parental support.  Quinn feels putting more resources into early education will pay off in the future.  The Illinois State Board of Education is asking lawmakers for a $25 million increase in early childhood education next year. But funding could be scarce. That's because a scheduled rollback of the state's temporary income tax may mean cuts for schools and social services. 

Quinn reiterated raising the state's $8.25 minimum wage to at least $10 an hour.  He says raising Illinois' minimum wage is about dignity and decency.   The Chicago Democrat has wanted to increase the rate for years. Trying to do so has also been part of a national Democratic strategy.   In his State of the Union address Tuesday, President Barack Obama announced plans to raise the minimum wage for federal contract workers to $10.10 an hour, a jump over the current federal $7.25 rate.  Minimum wage also has been a major issue on the 2014 gubernatorial campaign trail for Illinois Republicans. Three of the four GOP candidates oppose an increase.

The Governor again wants to again double an income tax credit aimed at helping poor Illinois families keep more of the money they earn.   He says the tax credit should be increased over five years.    The state last increased the credit in 2011 as part of an incentive package aimed at keeping big businesses in the state. At the time, the state's rate for the credit was among the lowest in the nation. The legislation increased it over two years from its original 5 percent to 10 percent by this year. State officials said it would eventually translate to an average of about $100 a year per family. 

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