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updated: 2/7/2013 7:42 AM

Gov. Quinn to include ethics plan in State of the State speech

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  • Gov. Pat Quinn

      Gov. Pat Quinn
    DANIEL WHITE | Staff Photographer


SPRINGFIELD -- Gov. Pat Quinn's annual State of the State address Wednesday will include a plan to boost anti-corruption efforts in Illinois with a proposal requiring lawmakers recuse themselves from taking a vote on legislation or other official action if there is a conflict of interest.

Quinn's noon speech -- which comes as Illinois has the worst pension problem in the country -- will delve into ethics in state government, particularly how things have improved under his watch. Both of Quinn's predecessors went to prison for corruption, and Quinn will talk about reforms since then, including a commission he formed.

The ethics proposal, which will require lawmakers to write legislation, will lay out what is considered a conflict of interest for lawmakers and bar them from representing a person or corporation where there is a financial or personal conflict of interest, according to a person familiar with the Democratic governor's plan. The person was not authorized to discuss the proposal before Quinn's Wednesday speech and would only speak on condition of anonymity.

Quinn also is expected to call for online voter registration, open Illinois primaries where voters wouldn't haven't to declare political parties beforehand, gun control and job opportunities for veterans.

Expectations are high for Quinn's speech before lawmakers, with unions, lawmakers and 2014 gubernatorial candidates expecting guidance on reforming Illinois' finances. Illinois has nearly $100 billion in unfunded liability with its five pension systems, and Quinn has made an overhaul a top priority over the past year, though lawmakers haven't been able to agree on a solution.

The speech will allow Quinn to set the tone ahead of his upcoming budget address, which will delve into the details of the state's shaky finances and outline priorities for the year. But his State of the State speech will be under intense scrutiny as Quinn has little to show for progress on pensions and Republicans and fellow Democrats are eyeing his seat in the 2014 governor's race.

Quinn has said he will touch on the state's financial problems in the speech and also hinted he will take the chance to remind the public of anti-corruption efforts in his four years in office. Both of Quinn's predecessors -- George Ryan and Rod Blagojevich -- went to prison on corruption convictions. Ryan was released from federal prison last week to home confinement after serving more than five years in prison on wide ranging corruption charges.

The governor also plans to touch on gay marriage, which is expected to come up for a Senate vote next week, the environment and immigration.

The speech is Quinn's best chance to boast of accomplishments, something he has done before. Last year, he spoke for 34 minutes focusing largely on positive elements like a climbing employment rate and tougher ethics laws.

But lawmakers, political experts and union members agreed that they're looking for direction from Quinn on what to do next with pensions.

Quinn has been intensely focused on addressing pensions; however, efforts at reform have failed. Quinn called a special session on the topic last year, started his own public campaign through Facebook and Twitter, and set several deadlines for lawmakers. Most recently, lawmakers left their lame-duck session last month without calling for a vote on any last-ditch effort.

Pressure from unions ramped up Tuesday when roughly 100 members of a state worker union rallied in the lobby of a downtown Chicago office building where Quinn and other state leaders have offices, calling out the governor with signs reading, "Gov. Quinn Keep Your Word." The union opposes any reductions to retirement benefits -- a central theme in pension talks.

Also, U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock, a Republican mulling a gubernatorial run, called on Quinn ahead of the speech to outline a plan out of Illinois' financial hole.

"Illinois shouldn't be last in anything," he said in a statement. "It's time to turn this state around and my hope is that Governor Quinn can provide the leadership and vision Illinois needs right now if we are to have any prayer of moving forward."

Other potential Republicans seeking the seat are Illinois Treasurer Dan Rutherford and state Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington. Possible Democratic contenders are former White House chief of staff Bill Daley and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

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