CHICAGO – Speaking at events honoring Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday Monday, Gov. Rod Blagojevich said a report he commissioned to identify major issues of disparities in Illinois shows the state is taking steps to improve the quality of life for all its citizens. In addition, the Governor introduced new initiatives that will further close the gap for minority business owners.
The report, “Building Bridges and Closing Gaps: Disparities in Illinois,” was commissioned one year ago and provides insights into how the State of Illinois and community stakeholders are working together to address diversity gaps in areas such as education, health care, criminal justice, housing and economic development. Spearheaded by Robert L. Starks, Ph.D., of Northeastern Illinois University and other public policy experts, the report states, “Illinois emerges as a leader in eradicating poverty, improving health care and moving its citizens from welfare to work and from work to wealth.”
“Last year, I put together a working group to study inequality in Illinois. The study would identify the major issues of disparities related to race, age, disabilities, and geography. I’m back a year later to say – with the help of Dr. Robert Starks and a group of public policy experts – we have completed the report,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “While there is still much work to be done to give every person in Illinois an equal chance to grow and succeed, I’m proud to say we have made significant steps in the right direction.”
The Governor pointed to several key legislative and budgetary accomplishments that have a far-reaching impact on long existing disparities. Over the past two years, the state increased K-12 education spending by one-billion dollars and helped jump-start the academic success of 17,000 more young children by providing them with access to preschool. The state expanded access to health care for over 60,000 more kids and 127,000 more parents. Nearly half a million low-wage workers benefited from an increase in the minimum wage to $6.50 an hour, and the Governor signed legislation requiring employers to pay their male and female employees the same wage for the same work.
In addition to celebrating the progress Illinois is making in improving opportunities for its citizens, the Governor laid out his plans to use the state’s resources to better support and encourage female- and minority-owned businesses. Blagojevich pointed to new small business legislation that took effect Jan. 1 and will set-aside thousands of contracts for Illinois small businesses – many of which are owned by women and minorities.
Gov. Blagojevich also announced that three of Illinois’ largest agencies – the Department of Transportation (DOT), the Tollway Authority and the Department of Central Management Services (CMS) – are seeking to open more state contracts to diversified firms by making it easier for them to be included in bids.
DOT will increase its goal for participation of diversified small businesses by more than a third, from 14 percent to 22 percent, and work with the Tollway Authority to give disadvantaged businesses access to capital and financing to compete for larger state construction contracts.
In the coming weeks, CMS will solicit bidders for a major goods and services contract that will require vendors to include the participation of diversified firms as part of their bids for the first time in a decade.
“Small- and minority-owned businesses represent an important cog in the state’s economic engine,” the Governor said. “By certifying these firms and opening new contract opportunities, we are helping them grow, which in turn helps communities prosper throughout the state.”