SPRINGFIELD -- In a State of the State speech that could be the start of his re-election campaign, Gov. Pat Quinn Wednesday called for a higher minimum wage, stronger gun control and passing a same-sex marriage bill.
In a nearly 40-minute speech, Quinn also called for an end to voters having to declare a party affiliation to participate in primary elections and reiterated that rising pension costs are diverting money from other state programs.
"Let there be no mistake. Our state is at a critical juncture," Quinn said. "This is a choice about whether we'll make the tough decisions necessary to balance our budget by reforming our pension systems, or whether we will let our jobs, our safety and our schools be squeezed out by these skyrocketing pension costs."
Quinn called for raising the minimum wage in Illinois from the current $8.25 an hour to $10 an hour over the next four years.
"Nobody in Illinois should work 40 hours a week and live in poverty," Quinn said.
Business groups immediately criticized the idea.
"I think it's a job-killing idea," said Todd Maisch of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
At $10 an hour, Illinois would have the highest minimum wage in the country.
Although most criticism of the idea came from Republicans, even some Democrats were skeptical.
"If employers shut down because of the rules we make regarding what they must pay employees, then we have a different set of problems," said Rep. Lou Lang, D-Skokie. "We have to think this through."
Guns, same-sex marriage
Quinn called for banning the sale of assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as stronger background checks for gun purchasers. The governor also said there need to be limits on concealed carry, which Illinois will have to legalize unless a court decision is reversed.
"Guns don't belong in our schools, shopping malls or sports stadiums," Quinn said.
Quinn reiterated his support for a same-sex marriage bill that is beginning to work its way through the state Senate.
Resurrecting an idea he's unsuccessfully pushed before, Quinn called for open primaries in Illinois. In an open primary, voters don't have to declare a party affiliation to cast ballots. Leaders of both political parties like a closed primary because it allows them to identify voters allied to them.
Quinn spent part of the speech looking back, citing his accomplishments, including Medicaid reform, abolishing legislative scholarships and closing state facilities to save money.
For many Republicans, Quinn's speech marked the start of his 2014 reelection bid.
"It sounded like he was laying some groundwork," said Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka. "He's got to have something to show for his time here to run again."
Page 2 of 2 - Topinka said she wanted to hear more about how Quinn plans to turn around the state's finances.
"There was nothing in there about paying our bills and trying to get us on a nice fiscal footing," Topinka said.
"It was a political election kickoff speech for Pat Quinn," said Sen. Kirk Dillard, R-Hinsdale, a potential GOP candidate for governor in 2014. "He singled out some legislators, particularly some who represent constituencies he's going to need."
Dillard said Quinn needed to provide more details about how he would get a pension reform bill passed quickly.
Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, another potential GOP gubernatorial candidate, said Quinn is the worst governor in the nation, based on the state's credit ratings.
"He reminds me of Nero," Brady said. "While the state is failing, he's fiddling away at issues that aren't important to us."
Quinn also faces a potential primary challenge from Attorney General Lisa Madigan.
"I thought he focused on the most important issue facing the state, which is the pension issue," Madigan said. "The other issues that he addressed are obviously important issues, but the top three issues are pensions, pensions, pensions."
Madigan concluded Quinn had a "good day" in stressing the importance of pension reform.
Doug Finke can be reached at (217) 788-1527.