SPRINGFIELD – Governor Rod R. Blagojevich today delivered his 2006 State of the State Address, outlining the significant progress made over the last three years to help working families. The Governor proposed several major new initiatives to create even more jobs, improve education, increase access to healthcare and continue to lower the crime rate.
“A little more than three years ago, the people of Illinois decided to bring us together to chart a new course. To make Illinois once again the land of opportunity. To shake up a system here in Springfield that accepted mediocrity and failure. To make state government begin again to work for the people, rather than the other way around. Despite facing one of the most challenging periods in our state’s history, today, Illinois is now leading the nation in taking steps that help real people, people who work, middle class families, build better lives. We are making real progress – but there is so much more to do,” said Governor Blagojevich.
“I believe in the basic Democratic principle that government can be - and must be - a force for good. An active government that helps people and rights wrongs is what our founding fathers envisioned, it’s what Abraham Lincoln believed in, it’s what makes serving in government worthwhile,” the Governor continued. “Families across Illinois are struggling enough to make ends meet. It’s not their job to bail us out. It’s our job to help them. That has been our governing principle: do everything you can to help families get ahead and build better lives. That means an Illinois where every family - and especially every child - has access to good, affordable health care; an Illinois where every child can get a good education; and an Illinois where those same children can then afford to go to college so they can develop their skills and get a good job. It would mean an Illinois where good jobs remain good jobs, jobs that stay in this state and stay in this country. An Illinois that’s safe from street crime, safe from gang crime, safe from terrorism. And, an Illinois that treats everyone equally and fairly, no matter where you come from or what you look like. That’s our vision for this state. It’s a vision we've worked hard to turn into reality over the past three years. It hasn’t come without a struggle. It hasn’t always been easy. Nothing in life worth having ever is. Today, state government now works more for the people out there and less for the special interests around here. We have turned things around, changed the priorities of state government, and the results are clear.”
In his State of the State address, the Governor highlighted what Illinois has accomplished in the last three years, including how Illinois:
- Is the only state that guarantees access to affordable, comprehensive health care for all children;
- Leads the nation in making health care accessible for working men and women;
- Has the most generous response of any state to help seniors fill in the holes in the federal prescription drug plan;
- Invested more money in schools in the last three years than any other Midwestern state;
- Raised graduation standards to better prepare students for college;
- Dramatically expanded access to preschool, putting Illinois among the top three in the nation; and
- Led 44 other states in job creation last year.
The Governor’s agenda for Illinois is in stark contrast to the federal agenda in Washington, D.C. Over the last several years, the federal government has cut prescription drug benefits for seniors, ignored the fact that 43 million Americans live without health insurance, cut overtime pay, outsourced jobs, refused to raise the minimum wage, refused to fund stem cell research, let the assault weapons ban expire, and failed to fund “No Child Left Behind,” their own law that was supposed to reform education.
During his address, the Governor outlined new initiatives to move Illinois forward specifically in the areas of economic opportunity, education, health care and public safety.
Where the federal government has stalled or even hurt economic opportunities for middle class families, Illinois has filled the void. Illinois passed laws to increase the minimum wage, guarantee women equal pay for equal work; refused to go along with federal law stripping overtime pay from workers, and lured companies to Illinois with support and incentives compared to Washington, D.C. trade policies that have resulted in nearly one million American jobs being sent overseas.
Capital Construction Program
Governor Blagojevich today proposed a new capital construction plan to create 230,000 good paying jobs around the state and build critical roads, schools and improve mass transit.
The Governor’s capital plan would build on the state’s success last year when Illinois created more jobs than 44 other states. Illinois also recorded its lowest unemployment rate since June of 2001. Additionally, hotel receipts, corporate tax receipts, foreign direct investments and exports are up. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is even outdrawing the Clinton Presidential Library and Museum. And, in the last three years, while taking multiple steps to make Illinois more attractive to business including reforming the workers compensation system, reducing medical malpractice costs, improving infrastructure such as the Tollway, expanding O’Hare and developing a plan for Peotone, Illinois completed 320 different deals, spurring $4.5 billion in private investment.
The Governor’s capital plan will:
- Build Roads. The program the Governor’s proposing will build or rebuild 100 miles of streets and highways statewide and create 140,000 jobs. It will match the projects in the federal road bill and includes:
- Expanding Route 51 in Decatur
- Widening I-55 from Weber Road to Illinois 126 in Joliet
- Widening Illinois Route 13 from Marion to Carterville
- Building Technology Boulevard in Peoria
- Improving Route 2 in Rockford
- Improving Route 5 in Moline
- Starting work on the Mississippi River Bridge
- Making Route 336 a gateway from Chicago all the way to Kansas City
- Improve Mass Transit. The mass transit component of the capital construction plan will create 85,000 jobs. It will allow Chicago to connect between CTA and Metra lines, the Chicago suburbs to upgrade their train stations, and communities including Danville, Mattoon, Rockford and Champaign will be able to get new buses.
- Build Schools. This component of the construction plan will create 7,000 more jobs. Many Illinois schools are old, overcrowded and in disrepair. Passing a capital bill will create more classroom space, reduce class sizes and give students more modernized facilities to learn in.
Four years ago, the federal government instituted the No Child Left Behind Act, increasing standards and accountability in the nation’s schools. But, the program is largely unfunded, causing significant hardship for states including Illinois. In spite of new bureaucracy and unfunded mandates from Washington, D.C. and an inherited $5 billion budget deficit, in the last three years, led by Gov. Blagojevich, Illinois:
· Increased education funding by $2.3 billion - more money than any state in the Midwest and more than all but six other states in the nation.
· Increased funding by 50 percent for access to pre-school, giving more than 25,000 more children the ability to start school early. Illinois is now ranked among the top three states in the country for access to preschool.
· Strengthened Illinois high school graduation standards. For the first time in over two decades, Illinois high school students are required to take more math, science, reading and writing to graduate – better preparing them for college.
College Tuition Relief
To make it easier for parents to afford to send their children to college, Gov. Blagojevich today proposed a $1,000 tax credit for every student who attends a college in Illinois – private or public. The Governor’s proposal requires students to maintain a “B” average to receive and keep the tax credit. It would also apply to the first two years of college, because when students make it through the first two years, odds are high that they’ll graduate.
More expensive than ever, it costs on average more than $7,000 a year in tuition and fees to attend a public university in Illinois and more than $18,000 for a private institution. Three years ago, the Governor signed the “Truth-in-Tuition” law, which locks in the cost of tuition when students are freshmen so they pay the same tuition cost as seniors. The Governor also expanded the MAP program over the last three years to help more than 20,000 more students and their parents afford college. But while Illinois helps families afford college, the most recent federal deficit reduction package cuts financial aid by $13 billion.
“Yes, this is a generous tax credit. But that’s what makes it meaningful. For many families, $1,000 is a mortgage payment. It’s three or four or five car payments. It’s the electric bill for an entire year,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “For many families, it’s a tax credit that can help make the dream of college affordable and the dream of college a reality. It’s a tax credit that helps parents who work hard, who love their children, and who want it better for their kids than they’ve had it for themselves.”
Today, Illinois leads the nation in health care – perhaps the greatest difference between priorities in Illinois and Washington D.C. There are 45 million people in the U.S. without health insurance, 8 million of which are children, and the federal government just cut funding for Medicaid and other similar programs by $40 billion. In contrast, led by Governor Blagojevich, Illinois:
- Expanded FamilyCare to make sure that 170,000 working men and women have access to healthcare.
- Expanded KidCare to make sure that 180,000 more children have access to health care.
- Created All Kids – making Illinois the only state in the nation that guarantees every child access to affordable, comprehensive health care.
- Created the Illinois Cares program so that no senior would lose coverage after the federal government created a Medicare prescription drug benefit program that actually provides Illinois seniors with less coverage than before.
- Became the first state in the Midwest to publicly fund stem cell research.
Additionally, the administration in Washington cut funding for the groundbreaking Breast Cancer Research Program and proposed eliminating the block grants that states use to help women detect breast cancer and cervical cancer. It also does not support women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. But, Illinois protects these rights. The Governor spearheaded the effort to require health insurance companies that cover prescription drugs to also cover contraceptive services and prescriptions.
“We became the first state in the nation to prohibit pharmacists from turning away women seeking to fill prescriptions for birth control from their doctors. No delays, no lectures, no hassles. Just fill the prescription. Now, I understand that several bills have been introduced that would overturn my executive order to protect women’s reproductive freedoms. Let me make something else very clear -- if any of those bills reach my desk, they are dead on arrival,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
Veterans Health Care
Because veterans serve their country in the military, fight our wars, put their lives on the line – and come home and may not be able to afford a doctor, Governor Blagojevich proposed a new program providing veterans access to affordable and comprehensive health care.
There are 1.7 million veterans in America that do not have health care. While the federal government hasn’t come up with a solution to help them, today, Governor Blagojevich proposed a new program called Veterans Care. The ultimate goal of the program is making sure every veteran has health care. Lt. Governor Pat Quinn and Governor Blagojevich began developing Veterans Care when All Kids was being developed. The first phase of the veterans program would cover low-income veterans who do not have health insurance and who don’t live within a reasonable driving distance of a VA hospital.
To drastically reduce mercury emissions that can cause serious health problems, Gov. Blagojevich proposed new state standards to cut the toxic emissions from power plants by 90 percent by June 30, 2009.
Mercury can cause serious health problems to the human nervous system – pregnant women, women of childbearing age and children younger than 15 years of age are especially at risk. Developing fetuses can be exposed to mercury when a mother eats tainted fish and can suffer mental retardation, cerebral palsy, lower IQs, slow motor functions, deafness, blindness and other health problems. Recent studies indicate that as many as 10 percent of babies born each year in the United States are exposed to excessive mercury levels in the womb.
The Governor’s proposal for new state standards will reduce toxic mercury emissions faster and more thoroughly than new federal restrictions adopted last spring and will achieve the largest overall amount of mercury reduction of any state in the country. The rule will be submitted to the Illinois Pollution Control Board in February.
Another way to protect the environment and provide consumers some relief from high gas prices, Gov. Blagojevich proposed giving consumers a $500 tax rebate on the purchase of fuel-efficient cars. Those who buy cars that run on E-85 or biodiesel fuel and get more than 35 miles per gallon on highways or 25 miles per hour in cities will be eligible for the credit.
Over the last two years, crime in Illinois dropped by nearly seven percent. Illinois recorded fewer robberies, burglaries, stolen cars, arsons and murders than any time in the last decade. Highway accidents and fatalities hit a 60 year low and Illinois is ranked among the best in the nation in homeland security and preparedness.
Today, during his State of the State address, the Governor renewed his call to lawmakers to pass a ban on assault weapons and .50 caliber rifles. The federal government allowed the assault weapons ban to expire more than a year ago, putting people in Illinois at risk. Last year, the Governor and some lawmakers nearly passed a state assault weapons ban.
Assault weapons are extremely dangerous. They fire bullets rapidly and can fire at multiple targets. In addition, the military-style features make these guns even more dangerous. They have a high level of firepower, can penetrate body armor, and therefore pose a significant threat to police as well as innocent bystanders. The .50-caliber rifle is among the most destructive weapon available to the public. It’s capable of hitting a target accurately from up to 2,000 yards, killing someone from a mile away, or even bringing down an airplane. The ammunition .50-calibers use is able to blow through a half-inch thick piece of steel – and easily pierce armor that police officers wear.
Fight Against Methamphetamine
Because methamphetamine can be as destructive to families and communities as assault weapons, Governor Blagojevich today proposed to create a specialized prison and treatment facility for meth addicts at 667-bed Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center.
More than 12 million Americans have tried meth and 1.5 million are regular users. In Illinois, the number of meth labs dismantled grew from 24 in 1997 to 961 in 2004. In the last three years, Illinois has provided law enforcers with more tools to fight meth and made it easier for prosecutors to go after meth makers and distributors. Illinois laws regarding meth are among the toughest in the nation.
The new meth facility would be modeled after the Sheridan National Model Drug Prison & Reentry program. Additionally, the Governor proposed to expand the Sheridan Correctional Center the following year, in Fiscal Year 2008, from 950 offenders to its full capacity of 1,300, with 200 spaces specifically for another meth unit.
Announced during his first State of the State address as governor, Gov. Blagojevich launched the Sheridan project in January 2004 with the goal of becoming a national model for reducing recidivism among drug-involved offenders and becoming the largest fully-dedicated state drug prison and reentry program in the nation with a population of 1,300. The program offers intensive drug treatment to all inmates at the facility, and an extensive case management and job preparedness program. The job preparedness program is the first of its kind in Illinois offering a sectoral-based job training program with connections to actual employers, the development of a new bridge education program for lower-skilled inmates, a job preparedness training program for all inmates, and community-based job placement services to all parolees. Since opening, the recidivism rate among Sheridan inmates is down by 50 percent.
A new meth facility would take the same steps to help meth addicts – they would receive treatment, counseling and job training – giving them a better chance to leave prison without a drug addiction that can destroy lives, families and communities.
To conclude his annual State of the State message, the Governor recounted the obstacles Illinois faced, both inherited and created by the federal government, that could have kept the state from achieving its goals of creating jobs, improving the quality of education, expanding access to health care and reducing crime on Illinois streets. And, although challenges remain, the Governor urged lawmakers to stand with him and create more opportunities for working families.
“Some in Washington, and many of the skeptics here in Illinois, may disagree with our priorities. But ask them this: What child’s education would they cut? What working family would they raise taxes on? What child do they say should go without health care? What senior citizen do they believe should be left out in the cold? Leadership is about real choices. It’s about real-life decisions that affect people’s lives. This isn’t a game -- it’s real life. And I am proud of the causes we’ve taken on, of the progress we’ve made, and the people we’ve helped. Help them get access to health care. Help them afford their medicine. Help them go to pre-school. Help them earn a decent wage. Help them collect more child support. Help them go to college. Help them get ahead. During the time we’ve been gathered here today, the people of our state have been living their lives. They’ve been changing shifts. They’ve been picking their kids up from kindergarten. They’ve been taking their mothers or fathers to the doctor. Working. Saving. Caring for their families. That’s what they do, every day. They’re counting on us. We can never allow ourselves to go back. And we can never just settle for how far we’ve come. Yes, we inherited a mess. And yes, we've made a lot of progress. But there’s more to do. So here's the challenge. Let's get to work,” concluded Governor Blagojevich.