In last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama touched on a few concepts that could impact the Illinois Statehouse. Although, events later in the week, such as his visit to Chicago on Friday and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius’ press conference with Governor Pat Quinn may have more impact. In terms of the address:
The president urged Congress to pass the balance of the American Jobs Act that could place Illinois in competition to be a site for one of 15 proposed manufacturing innovation hubs, modeled after the inaugural one in Youngstown, Ohio. The facilities would partner with the Departments of Energy and Defense to spur high-tech jobs created within advanced manufacturing networks that would connect those agencies with businesses, universities and community colleges. Obama may create three of the 15 by Executive Order in advance of Congressional approval.
Another economic development initiative touted in the speech could provide more funding for the Illinois Department of Transportation. Obama proposed establishing a “Fix – It – First” program which would help repair 700,000 structurally deficient bridges. It was inferred that the program could envelop road repair, high speed rail development, broadband expansion and Smart Grid development. All of those are infrastructure boosts that Illinois desperately needs but cannot afford.
In a somewhat unique initiative, President Obama proposed creating a public sector – private sector program call Partnership to Rebuild America. It would attract private sector capital to address public needs such as school construction, pipeline expansion and port modernization.
There were also two State of the Union proposals that could impact Illinois education funding. Citing studies that tout the life-long benefits of early education, Obama proposed working with states to ensure that all children in the U.S. have access to “high quality” preschool education. He also announced a concept that would provide incentives to innovative high schools that develop partnerships with colleges and employers to create classes focusing on engineering, technology, science and math.
Governor Pat Quinn may have also found a way to achieve part of his goal of raising Illinois’ minimum wage. In his State of the State address last week, Quinn proposed raising the Illinois rate from $8.25 to $10 an hour. The Obama request would raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. It wouldn’t be everything that Quinn wants, but it would get it nearly half way there. But, the chances of either passing will be a challenge as it would be a rallying cry for business lobbies and coalitions. Obama’s plan would also tie minimum wage increases to cost-of-living factors to maintain consistency. It will still be hard to pass though.
Today’s announcement is a done deal though. Quinn and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced in Chicago that Illinois has been given conditional approval to operate a State Partnership Marketplace – an Illinois Healthcare Exchange born from the Affordable Care Act.
It would allow Illinois to select health insurance carriers and tailor a health insurance marketplace to local needs and market conditions to be part of a state sanctioned network. The State Partnership Marketplace would launch on October 1st this year and is projected to help 500,000 Illinois residents secure health insurance in the first year of operation and possibly serve one million Illinoisans by 2016.
But, as big as that announcement was for Illinois and the potential benefits that may come to light if President Obama can get the divisive and derisive U.S. Congress to pass his initiatives, they may all pale compared to this Friday. That is when the president comes to Chicago to probably talk about economic development and gun violence. The nation will be watching.