SPRINGFIELD – During his 2005 State of the State Address delivered today before a joint session of the General Assembly, Governor Rod Blagojevich detailed plans to help Illinoisans achieve their goals of earning a good living, providing a solid education to their children, obtaining affordable health care and spending more time with their families. The Governor reviewed the strides the state has made in these areas during the first two years of his administration and unveiled new plans to do more.
“Whether you live in Pilsen, Plainfield, Peoria or Pinckneyville, all of us want the same things. And so the question for all of us here today is: what can we do to help the people of Illinois build better lives?” said Gov. Blagojevich. “If we can help people earn a good living, help businesses reduce their costs, if we can respect and protect people’s paychecks, if we can give kids a good education, if we can give everyone access to good health care, keep people safe, and give families more time for the things that really matter, then we truly can deliver on our promise to the people of Illinois. The last two years have been a very good start, but there’s still more to do.”
The Governor’s agenda for moving the state forward builds on numerous achievements and benchmarks reached during the first two years of his administration.
In order for Illinoisans to build better lives, they need opportunities to earn good livings. During the past two years, the state has negotiated more than 200 deals with companies to create and retain jobs throughout this state including: bringing Target to DeKalb, PetsMart to Ottawa, Hershey Foods to Edwardsville, expanding DemirCo in Decatur, expanding Aisin in Marion and retaining 600 Wells Fargo jobs in Springfield. The state also expanded funding for job training and worker development and created the Illinois Finance Authority to offer low interest loans to businesses interested in coming to Illinois. The Governor’s innovative Opportunity Returns regional job creation and economic development strategy is reaping results in six regions announced to date, and next week, he will launch new plans for the Central, East Central and Southeast regions.
“All of our efforts are paying off. Last year, 50,000 new jobs were created, hotel and motel receipts are up 11%, and I’m proud to say that the unemployment rate in Illinois has dropped to 5.8% - the lowest it has been since the aftermath of September 11th. We held our ground. We said no to income tax increases, we said no to sales tax increases and as the economy is starting to turn the corner, now is the time to seize the moment,” said the Governor.
Today, Governor Blagojevich announced new plans to boost the economy through key investments in Illinois’ natural resources, better coordination with businesses to reduce their costs, and new strategies to attract business to Illinois.
Homeland Security Industry
In 2003, the federal government, states, cities and the private sector spent more than $100 billion on homeland security efforts. The world market for security products and systems – ranging from filters that protect people from viruses to wireless tracking devices that monitor cargo on ships -- is worth about $43 billion and is projected to increase 11% annually through 2006, approaching $80 billion. A recent study conducted by the RAND Corporation concluded that Illinois is well positioned to attract and support the homeland security industry.
Governor Blagojevich proposed several ways for Illinois to tap into this market. First, the state will create a division within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity whose sole purpose will be to encourage companies that make homeland security products to come to Illinois. The state will also utilize existing tax credits and programs as incentives for companies that produce homeland security products. Second, the Governor is asking Illinois universities and community colleges to develop their curriculum to educate and train students to work in the homeland security industry. Third, Governor Blagojevich proposes positioning Illinois military bases as testing grounds for new homeland security products. And finally, the state will develop ways to increase the flow of homeland security research and development dollars to Illinois by working with the Illinois congressional delegation and the Illinois Coalition, a public-private partnership focused on obtaining federal dollars for the State of Illinois.
“This is a growing industry. And the products we need to keep America safe should be made right here in Illinois. And why not Illinois? Located in the center of the country, on the Great Lakes, connected to the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers, home to O’Hare Airport and the nation’s railroad hub, Illinois is well positioned to do this. We have a trained and eager workforce, a strong manufacturing infrastructure, excellent transportation, top notch military bases and some of the best universities and research institutions in the world,” said Gov. Blagojevich.
Illinois Wind Power: Renewable Portfolio Standard
To create jobs, protect the environment and promote energy independence, Governor Blagojevich called on the Illinois Commerce Commission to increase the portion of our energy that comes from renewable sources, including wind. Electricity demand in Illinois continues to grow 2% annually. At the same time, Illinois has enough wind to generate a significant amount of electricity, but this clean, homegrown and renewable energy source remains largely untapped. The Governor is recommending a Renewable Portfolio Standard that requires by 2012 each electric utility or other retail electricity supplier to supply enough renewable energy to comprise at least 8% of the electricity sold in Illinois. This requirement would mean that more than 4,000 megawatts of power must come from renewable sources by 2012, and at least 75% of that – or 3,000 megawatts – must be wind. This amount of wind power could serve nearly 1,000,000 Illinois households. Currently, there are at least 12 large wind projects under consideration in Illinois that will likely be built should the state adopt a Renewable Portfolio Standard. A Renewable Portfolio Standard could generate more than $3 billion in investments in Illinois, creating about 3,000 construction jobs and several hundred permanent jobs.
Illinois Coal Industry
The Governor announced another major effort that will both create jobs and promote energy independence: Peabody Energy is building a $2 billion clean coal power plant in Washington County, Illinois. The new, state of the art Prairie State Power Plant will be nearly three times cleaner than any coal plant built in Illinois and will be the biggest coal plant built in the nation in twenty years. The 1,580 megawatt plant will use six million tons of Illinois coal and will generate nearly $100 million in state economic benefits each year. The state has worked extensively to make this project a reality. The Illinois Finance Authority is working to provide Peabody with $300 million in low-interest loans and approximately $1.7 billion in financing through bonds. The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency issued Peabody an air permit in January allowing the company to formalize partnership agreements and begin the construction process. And, DCEO is exploring grants from the Illinois Coal Competitiveness Fund to pay for testing and preliminary construction items. The project is expected to create 2,500 construction jobs, 450 mining and operations jobs and even more jobs when new transmission lines are built. The average salary for the operation jobs will be more than $55,000 a year.
Illinois Wine Industry
In an effort to promote and expand the emerging wine industry in Illinois, Governor Blagojevich called for a new campaign to promote Illinois wine, including designating the month of September “Illinois Wine Month.” The wine industry is one way to entice more tourists to Southern Illinois. Governor Blagojevich cited the state of Michigan as a wine success story. Although not comparable to the vineyards in France, Italy or California, Michigan has 48 wineries that generate $75 million a year in tourism. Illinois has 51 wineries that generate only $20 million in tourism.
Illinois is the transportation hub for the entire Midwest. O’Hare International is the nation’s busiest airport - one of every four flights is delayed. During his address, Governor Blagojevich renewed his commitment to the massive O’Hare modernization project and also for construction of a South Suburban Airport near Peotone. Governor Blagojevich endorsed Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr.’s plan for the privately funded Abraham Lincoln National Airport in Peotone. The airport will help reduce air congestion and serve as an important economic engine for the south suburbs and Will County without competing with O’Hare for federal funding. The Governor directed Tim Martin, Secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, to sit down with Congressman Jackson, State Senator Debbie Halvorson and Will County Executive Larry Walsh to come together on a plan that can be submitted to the Federal Aviation Authority as soon as possible.
Another way to expand the Illinois economy is to expand trade. The Governor outlined a new plan – suggested by House Speaker Michael J. Madigan – to partner with the private sector in expanding export opportunities for Illinois companies. The Governor is creating an Illinois Business Council that will be comprised of business leaders and will host monthly leadership forums, create trade missions, help businesses enter new world markets, represent Illinois at trade shows and market and promote Illinois agriculture products.
Workers’ Compensation Reform
Illinois is the 19th most expensive state in the nation when it comes to workers’ compensation premiums. Illinois companies pay 40% more for workers compensation than neighboring states Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana. In an effort to bring these costs down, the Governor is proposing to reform the system. First, the Governor proposes launching a “Fraud Squad,” with real investigatory and subpoena powers, that could proactively investigate all types of workers’ compensation fraud, medical provider fraud, insurer fraud, workers’ fraud and employer fraud. According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, fraud in workers’ compensation costs employers $6.5 billion a year.
To find new ways to bring workers’ compensation costs down, the Governor is asking business leaders and labor leaders to work together on legislation to implement cost control strategies, protect workers from being responsible for unpaid workers’ comp medical bills and to create a short-term partial benefit for workers. Among the ideas leaders will consider are setting provider fee schedules, and setting hospital payment regulations. The Governor also pushed to require insurance companies to pay medical providers directly, rather than making workers responsible – something every other state does, except Illinois.
To reduce the cost and hassle of doing business in Illinois, Governor Blagojevich is launching a regulatory reform effort to eliminate and streamline cumbersome state regulations. Similar to the effort at the Illinois State Board of Education to reduce the more than 2,800 pages of rules and regulations, the state will work with business owners to find out which rules and regulations are overly-complicated, redundant or unnecessary. The state will prepare an initial list of regulations to be reformed by next year.
Building on the effort to reduce red tape and hassle, Governor Blagojevich is launching a one-stop online Business Portal where businesses that interact with the state can get all the forms and information they need. Currently, businesses may comb through numerous state agencies’ websites or visit multiple offices to comply with requirements and regulations. But, starting today, businesses can log on to www.business.illinois.gov
to find the information they need from state government all in one place. The website provides information to business owners at all stages of their business’ development: from starting a new business, to maintaining an existing business, to changing a business. The site will allow businessmen and women to get their questions answered, download forms, licenses and permits and locate information about different programs and incentives available to them.
Small Business Health Insurance
Small businesses are major drivers of the economic recoveries in Illinois and the entire country; they are responsible for creating approximately 75% of new jobs nationwide. But, as health care premiums continue to rise by double-digits annually, small businesses are struggling to provide health care coverage for their employees. In fact, in a survey conducted by International Profit Associates Small Business Research Board, 70% of small businesses named healthcare costs as their most rapidly growing expenses. Increasing costs make businesses less profitable and force them to make hard choices like passing costs off to their workers, laying off employees or not hiring news ones, creating hardships for Illinois families. For these reasons, Governor Blagojevich is proposing a first-of-its-kind partnership between the State of Illinois and local chambers of commerce – starting with the Chicagoland Chamber – to help small businesses save money on the cost of health insurance. Illinois will look at Cleveland, Ohio’s, successful small business plans, including the Council of Small Enterprises, which has helped 14,000 businesses with 88,000 employees save 15% on their health care costs by pooling their resources and buying power.
“Bringing down the cost of health insurance isn’t going to be quick or easy,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “We’re venturing in to uncharted territory. But as the old adage says ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained.’ Adopting the Cleveland model gives us a chance to both help businesses save money and help more people get health insurance. It’s a creative idea and a worthwhile endeavor.”
In the area of health care, Gov. Blagojevich highlighted significant gains the state has made during the past two years, despite unprecedented budget deficits. According to the Kaiser Foundation, Illinois is leading the nation in providing health care to children and working parents. Last year alone, the Governor fought for and secured funding to provide health care to 56,000 more men, women and children.
The Governor continues his fight for affordable prescription drugs through his I-SaveRx program, the state’s safe and affordable drug importation program, and the Illinois Rx Buying Club, which enables senior citizens and the disabled to save an average of 23% on their medications at thousands of pharmacies in Illinois. Just this week, the Governor announced the state is lowering the enrollment fee for the Illinois Rx Buying Club from $25 to $10. In the coming year, the state will increase awareness of I-SaveRx through an integrated marketing strategy.
In an effort to make health care more affordable for women, the Governor signed a law requiring private insurance companies to cover female contraceptives. This new law can save women an average of $400 each year. Just last month, the Governor launched the Contraceptive Coverage Awareness Campaign, an aggressive effort to inform women that private insurance plans that cover outpatient drugs or services are now required to cover FDA approved contraceptive services and prescriptions.
Also in the area of women’s health, the state has expanded funding for breast cancer screenings, cervical cancer screenings and HIV/AIDS prevention. The state also launched the Illinois Healthy Women program to help women avoid unplanned pregnancies. And, this month, Governor Blagojevich and his wife, Patti, will raise awareness about women’s heart disease. Nearly twice as many women die from heart disease and stroke than from all other forms of cancer combined.
Another critical health care issue facing the people of Illinois is the medical malpractice crisis. Last Fall, the Governor appointed a mediator to bring all interested parties to the negotiating table to forge an agreement, but the gridlock continues. During Thursday’s address, Governor Blagojevich called for medical malpractice reform that protects the personal assets of doctors, preserves the rights of injured people to bring claims and that makes sure insurance companies reduce their premiums.
Another health care-access issue facing the state is a nurses shortage. The Governor is proposing several initiatives to address the shortage, which currently stands at 7% (vacancies vs. jobs filled). First, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity is making $4.74 million available to the Critical Skills Shortage Initiative. These grants will be used across the state for advanced education and training, and efforts to retain nurses in hospitals, long term care facilities and underserved areas. Second, the Governor directed the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to reduce bureaucratic hurdles keeping experienced nurses from relocating to Illinois. The Governor is proposing legislation to amend the Nurse Practice Act to eliminate the requirement that foreign nurses pass the Commission on Graduates of Foreign Nursing Schools exam – requiring passage of only the National Council of Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.
Governor Blagojevich announced during his 2005 address that major reform at the Illinois State Board of Education has netted real results for Illinois teachers, parents and children.
“Last year, I asked you for the opportunity to bring major change to the State Board of Education. You gave us that opportunity to make changes. And we’ve run with it. I am pleased to report to you that the process of change and reform at the State Board is well underway,” said the Governor.
Since the General Assembly approved legislation giving the Governor the authority to appoint seven new members to the State Board, under new leadership, the agency has eliminated the entire teacher certification backlog, which kept almost 7,000 Illinois teachers in limbo. Over the next six months, the State Board will eliminate hundreds of pages of rules and regulations, including streamlining the teacher certification process. The Governor also explained how the state is streamlining school report cards, providing meals to 40,000 more Illinois children and cutting agency spending and using those savings to help schools consolidate.
The Governor also announced the new Access to Preschool Initiative. Over the last two years, the state has increased funding to allow 17,000 more children to attend pre-school. But some Illinois children have been denied the opportunity to get a jump-start on their educations because of they are undocumented immigrants. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) asked the state to step in on behalf of one child’s family. Today, the Governor called on the Illinois State Board of Education to change their current rules and allow undocumented immigrants access to state funded pre-school.
Quality of Life: Spending more time with your family
All the initiatives the Governor outlined during his annual address are aimed at improving the quality of life for Illinois families. In addition to having a good job, quality education and health care, the Governor outlined other ways to improve our overall quality of life.
The Illinois Tollway’s $5.3 billion congestion-relief plan will reduce travel times and congestion by addressing critical infrastructure needs of the Illinois Tollway. By improving mobility throughout Northern Illinois, the plan will strengthen the state’s economy, create jobs and reduce travel times so parents can spend more time at home with their children.
The Governor also outlined ways to improve the quality of life for children being raised by single parents. Many of Illinois’ 300,000 single moms are struggling to make a living and have been forced to spend their free time hunting down the child support they are owed. The Governor’s Child Support Enforcement Initiative has increased collections to $950 million, the largest dollar amount ever collected in Illinois. But, the state can do more. The Governor is launching a New Hire initiative designed to improve the speed and reliability of child support collection. He is directing the Illinois Department of Public Aid and Illinois Department of Employment Security to work together to help business owners understand their obligations in identifying employees who owe child support and withholding wages. To educate employers of their responsibilities, IDPA will distribute new handbooks to businesses, promote a website and hotline for employers, and offer onsite education and training on the state’s reporting and withholding laws.
Safe Games Illinois Initiative
In addition to making sure our children are provided for, the Governor also recognizes parents are concerned about the outside influences shaping their children’s minds and behaviors. Research shows that violent and explicit video games pose a new and growing threat to young people’s development. The Safe Games Illinois initiative seeks to protect children from violent and sexually explicit video games by making Illinois the first state in the nation to ban the distribution, sale and rental of violent and sexually explicit video games to children under 18. Gov. Blagojevich urged members of the General Assembly to support his legislation to ban the sale and distribution of these games.
“For the same reason we don’t allow kids to buy pornography, for the same reason we don’t allow kids to buy cigarettes, for the same reason we don’t allow them to buy alcohol, we shouldn’t allow them to go to stores and buy video games that teach them to do the very things we put people in jail for, picking up prostitutes, joining street gangs, killing police officers or even assassinating President Kennedy,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Buying these games should be up to parents – not kids.”
The federal and regional Veterans Affairs offices have neglected Illinois’ veterans for far too long. Governor Blagojevich understands the needs and frustrations of veterans and has a plan to help our one million veterans collect the yearly $400 million in benefits they’re entitled to.
Governor Blagojevich is taking steps to ensure that those who served Illinois courageously receive the best services the state can offer. The Governor is dedicating $1.5 million to hire additional IDVA service officers to help veterans with their benefit applications, train service officers to better assist veterans, and to conduct a study of the demographics of state veterans to have a clear picture of where they are, what kind of needs they have and how to better serve them.
Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
The Governor closed his remarks with an open invitation to the new Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. When the museum opens on April 19th, it will be the best presidential institution in the nation, befitting the nation’s greatest president. The Library and Museum is a 200,000 square foot complex in downtown Springfield. After a four-day opening celebration and dedication in April, the Museum will serve as a showcase for rotating exhibits comprised of artifacts on loan from international museums and private collections in addition to the Museum’s permanent features.
“We’ve done a lot, but there’s still more to do. I’ve outlined a plan to do it. But, I need your help. We can only accomplish all of this if we work together. We won’t agree on every idea. We won’t share all of the same values or priorities. But, if we keep in mind just a few simple goals: better schools, affordable health care, safe communities, good jobs, and the value of family – we can help people build better lives,” said Gov. Blagojevich. “Yes – there is more work to be done. But, as Lincoln said ‘The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.’ If we remain determined to succeed, we can touch the lives of everyone in Illinois. And, we’ll be a better state for it.”