Growing the economy, child care, and a call for a minimum wage increase topped Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn's State of the State address.
The Chicago Democrat gave the annual speech in Springfield on Wednesday afternoon in front of not just current state lawmakers and dignitaries, but the four Republicans vying for a chance to run against him this fall.
Quinn proposed slashing a $500 filing fee current required for new small businesses to help stimulate Illinois' lagging economy.
"Let's reduce this fee to $39, the lowest in the nation, and provide a boost to innovators," he said, adding later that he'd like to create a business adviser position in his office.
The governor said a key to beefing up the economy starts with educating the state's young people. One idea he unveiled was a new "Birth-to-Five Initiative."
"It will be focused on three keys to a healthy child: prenatal care, access to early learning opportunities, and strong parent support," he said.
Quinn did not say, though, how much the initiative will cost or how it will be run. 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 also called for more monetary award program scholarships for college students, an extension of his goal of making sure that 60% of the adult workforce in Illinois has a degree or career certificate by 2025.
"We can't finish the job if deserving students aren't able to afford a college education," he said.
Quinn says the need-based MAP scholarships currently help 140,000 students go to college.
The governor has repeatedly pushed for the state's minimum wage to be raised from $8.25 to at least $10, and he didn't let the spotlight dim without reiterating that call.
"Our minimum wage workers are doing hard work. They're putting in long hours. Yet, in too many instances, they're living in poverty. That's not right," he said.
Meanwhile, he wants low-income families to keep more of the money they earn. Quinn called for lawmakers to double an income tax credit for Illinois' poor over the next five years.
"When more people enter the middle class, our economy grows," he said.
State officials said it would eventually translate to an average of about $100 a year per family. The state last increased the credit in 2011 as part of an incentive package aimed at keeping big businesses in the state.
Quinn also said last year's pension overhaul was a painful decision, but it "stopped the bleeding" for the state's financial woes.
At least one Republican state lawmaker didn't wait for the governor to wrap up his speech before issuing a reaction. In a written statement, State Senator Darin LaHood of Dunlap said, "Is it Groundhog Day, because I feel like I've awoken to another Pat Quinn speech short on details and heavy on the platitudes? Governor Quinn is five years too late and $9 billion short on results."