Quinn takes oath Monday to lead a state in crisis

  • Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, right, addresses the crowd with Lt. Gov nominee Shelia Simon, last fall after winning the gubernatorial race over Republican Bill Brady. Quinn and Simon will be sworn in on Monday, Jan. 10.

    Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, right, addresses the crowd with Lt. Gov nominee Shelia Simon, last fall after winning the gubernatorial race over Republican Bill Brady. Quinn and Simon will be sworn in on Monday, Jan. 10. Associated Press file photo, 2010

 
 
Updated 1/10/2011 6:38 AM

SPRINGFIELD -- As Gov. Pat Quinn spent the last two years begging lawmakers to raise taxes and begin lifting Illinois out of its nearly bottomless budget hole, people who depend on state programs in their daily lives struggled.

For example, the Community Crisis Center in Elgin, a shelter for the homeless and domestic abuse victims, remains on the brink of financial calamity. The state has barely begun paying bills it's owed the center since July, said Gretchen Vapnar, its executive director.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

As a result, some abuse victims who need help and homeless needing a place to stay have had to wait longer than usual for aid, Vapnar said. And her employees, some of whom make less than $30,000 a year, have had to take a full month off without pay.

"This has been the worst financial challenge that we've ever been through," Vapnar said.

Quinn could say the same thing about Illinois, which faces a budget problem as severe as any state in the country.

Now, after years in and around state government, Quinn will be sworn in Monday for his first full term as Illinois' governor.

By that time, lawmakers could be on the way to delivering him the tax increase he's yearned for, as well as enough loans to pay providers like the Community Crisis Center soon.

Or, they could be in the process of rebuking him once again.

Even if a tax increase is approved, Quinn's four-year term could be spent paying off those loans and perhaps facing the economic and political effects of signing higher taxes into law.

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So no matter what happens with plans to aid the state's finances in the coming days, the state budget likely will remain Quinn's biggest challenge, says Roosevelt University political scientist Paul Green,

"The budget isn't everything," said Green, channeling the Green Bay Packers' legendary coach, Vince Lombardi. "It's the only thing."

The chance to deal with the mess -- and face much of the criticism for it -- is Quinn's prize for winning a divisive election where the economy and the state's finances sharply divided Quinn and Republican state Sen. Bill Brady.

But he can't do it alone.

Sen. Terry Link, a Waukegan Democrat, said Quinn has to keep trying to ditch his reputation as an outsider and work more closely with the lawmakers who have to approve his ideas.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"He's got to get that feeling that we're not his enemy," Link said. "We want to be his partner, not his adversary."

Link says Quinn has earned respect among some of his fellow Democrats, though, because he's been honest about the severity of the state's budget problem and has offered solutions to fix it.

"He's shown a strong courage telling people the situation we're in," Link said. "I think that's a breath of fresh air down here."

Some disagree.

Quinn's critics, particularly during the campaign, accused the governor of changing his mind often and not doing enough to help the state's suffering economy and high unemployment rate.

Sen. Dan Duffy, a Lake Barrington Republican, said Quinn's plans to borrow money to pay bills echoes disgraced former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's budget solutions. It's like "paying a credit card bill with a credit card."

"I don't think we've come far at all," Duffy said.

Duffy entered the Senate just as Blagojevich was leaving, the former governor's impeachment and ouster leading to Quinn's rise to the governor's office.

The last time Quinn took the oath of office, he stood in the Illinois House chamber before a standing ovation of lawmakers from both parties. He used that initial goodwill to get a massive public works program approved, even with the controversial tax and fee increases that went along with it.

Going forward, Quinn's agenda might be tough to predict if he gets the tax increase that's been his top priority during his two years in office.

And even if lawmakers give him the help he's asked for in the coming days, he might be wrestling with the state's checkbook for the next four.

"We are in a governmental quicksand, and he needs a rope." Green said. "Not to pull us out, but to keep us from sinking further."