Quinn, others sworn in on Ill. Inauguration Day

January 11, 2011 4:25:08 AM PST
Governor Pat Quinn, Lieutenant Governor Sheila Simon and other elected state officials were sworn in to office Monday in Springfield under heightened security.

Gov. Quinn began his inaugural address by calling for unity and pledging to work with all in state government, including his former political opponents.

"We are one people," Quinn said. "We must be one people to address the challenges ahead."

Inauguration Day, which began with an interfaith service Monday morning, comes as lawmakers grapple over an income tax increase to fix the ailing state budget. The tax increase would be the largest in the state's history.

Governor Quinn can't shake the crises that have followed his career as governor. He was sworn in two years ago minutes after impeached ex-governor Rod Blagojevich was ousted. He won reelection and was sworn in Monday around noon as Illinois faces its worst financial crisis in history -- a $15 billion deficit.

Quinn and other Democratic leaders are trying to pass a major income tax increase that would boost the 3 percent income tax rate to 5.25 percent for four years, a 75-percent increase. It would also take the corporate rate from 4.8 to 8.4 percent. They're also looking at a $1-a-pack increase in cigarette taxes, more than double the current rate.

Together, the increases would produce about $7.5 billion a year, backers say. The money would be used in several ways: to close the gap between annual government costs and revenues, to provide money for education and property tax relief, and to finance borrowing about $8 billion to pay off the state's backlog of overdue bills.

Quinn's inaugural address offered broad promises to solve the state's fiscal crisis soon, saying, "We will pay our bills. We will stabilize our budget and strengthen our economy." But there were no firm details of how it would be done.

He addressed his rise to the governorship in his speech. "We know our government suffered an integrity crisis before I assumed office. It was a sad situation indeed. The people of Illinois were afraid their government had lost faith in them. We have restored honesty and integrity to the office of governor and we have replaced a government of deals with a government of ideals," he said.

Many in the audience waited for the governor to inspire support for the Democratic tax increase plan. But Quinn made no specific reference to the proposal floated by his office and Democratic leaders.

"When Quinn became the governor of the state of Illinois, he was dealt a terrible hand and of course he is trying to recover from it," said Jesse White, Illinois Secretary of State.

"There is an incredible level of cynicism that really erodes the public's trust. So much so that the true accomplishments of government are suspect at this point. So there's a lot of work we have to do to renew our state," Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan said.

Both chambers of the General Assembly held sessions on Inauguration Day, which is unusual. The House convened for a rare Sunday meeting, but because of the division on the tax increase plan, House Speaker Michael Madigan recessed without offering a bill.

"Quinn ... gave a great social justice speech. It appears that we're going to be on our way to help the people of Illinois," said Rep. Lashawn K. Ford, (D) Chicago.

"The governor's speech delivery was fine. I just wish there was substance to it that would tell us how to fix our state's problems," said Sen. Kirk Dillard, (R) Hinsdale.

Republican Senator Bill Brady, who Quinn defeated in the November election, predicted the Inauguration Day good will would be short-lived.

"We're going to let them enjoy their celebration, but we meet back at the Capitol this afternoon. It is still about working to defeat the tax increase," said Sen. Brady.

Gov. Quinn, Lt. Gov. Simon, AG Lisa Madigan, Secretary of State Jesse White, Treasurer Dan Rutherford and Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka were sworn in just after noon.

The other constitutional officers, Republican as well as Democrat, also stayed away from the tax increase issue during their speeches.

The inaugural events culminated with a gala at the Prairie Capitol Convention Center. Thousands of people were expected to attend.

The first official dance was scheduled for 10 o'clock and that's when Gov. Quinn hit the floor with Monica Walker. His press office described her as a friend.

In deference to the state's fiscal difficulties, the governor's privately-funded inauguration committee did not serve a formal dinner Monday night and the event was scaled back considerably from 2006 when the since impeached and ousted Rod Blagojevich was celebrated at his second inauguration.

"In terms of decorating, I mean you're not going to see the decorations you've seen in this past. If you're looking for beautiful, ornate floral decorations, this isn't the place for it," said George Sweeney, inaugural committee spokesman.

The lawmakers recessed by early evening to join the governor at the inaugural ball, leaving only Tuesday for the 96th General Assembly to finish its work.

"I think there's a very good chance we'll be voting on a tax increase tomorrow," said Rep. Lou Lang, (D) Skokie. "I would just simply say that I think it's different than what was reported over the weekend. I think the taxes proposed will be lower."

Security tightened in Springfield

The inauguration ceremony also follows on the heels of the targeted shooting of Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords at a Tucson meeting. Six people were killed and 13 others-- including Giffords, who remains in a medically-induced coma-- were injured. The alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, is not cooperating with officials, police said.

That shooting has led to tightened security at Monday's events, which will have limited access due to the changes in procedure.

In Chicago and across the nation, a moment of silence was held in honor of the Tucson shooting victims. Watch video of President Obama leading the moment of silence

Congressman Mike Quigley stopped for a moment at his North Side office Monday to observe the moment of silence at 10 a.m. He said the shooting will not prevent him from meeting with his constituents or attending public events. He said risk is part of the job of holding a public office.

"I suppose we're all a little vulnerable. But I think we all -- I don't know any congressman who is going to curtail their activity. We all recognize this is the people's house, and it's hard to do our job effectively if we're not communicating with voters," Rep. Mike Quigley, (D), said.

Quigley said he is encouraging people to tone down their rhetoric at this time when disagreeing on politics, including the healthcare debate, which has sparked much animosity across the aisles.

The moment of silence was also observed at the Thompson Center in downtown Chicago.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. All rights reserved.