SPRINGFIELD-Looking to salvage his political future, Gov. Pat Quinn aimed Wednesday to appeal to his Democratic base heading into a bumpy 2014 re-election bid, pushing for a minimum wage hike, tighter gun control and gay marriage.
Delivering his fourth State of the State speech, Quinn said Illinois has "moved forward" since his 2009 arrival as governor but said the state is at "a critical juncture" as it faces the politically toxic task of solving a $95 billion pension crisis and improving the state's worst-in-the-nation budget ranking.
"We have moved Illinois forward, but we have much more to do," Quinn told a joint session of the General Assembly. "At this point, each and every one of us has a choice to make about what we want our Illinois to look like.
"Do we want, in the years to come, a prosperous Illinois where working people continue to have good jobs, where businesses thrive and where all our children have a world-class education? Or do we want to stop the progress and watch our economic recovery stall," Quinn asked.
The governor challenged lawmakers to remain focused on reeling in pension benefits for state workers and retirees and downstate and suburban teachers, saying ballooning pension payments continue to threaten everything else the state must pay for.
"We have a tall task ahead of us," Quinn said. "This is no small issue. And doing what's hard isn't always what's popular at the moment. But, we must remember that hard is not impossible."
In what had the feel of the first speech of the 2014 campaign cycle, Quinn urged state lawmakers to raise the state's $8.25 an hour minimum wage to $10 an hour during the next four years, which faces universal resistance from business leaders.
"Our businesses are only as good as the employees who drive their success," he said. "Nobody in Illinois should work 450 hours a week and live in poverty. That's a principle as old as the Bible. That's why, over the next four years, we must raise the minimum wage to at least $10 an hour."
Quinn also pushed for tough gun-control measures, invoking the name of slain Chicago teen Hadiya Pendleton, who has emerged as the lastest and prettiest face of the city's unchecked killing spree.
"We cannot wait for another tragedy to happen before we take action," He said. "We must move forward with a comprehensive plan that includes gun safety legislation, mental health care and violence prevention strategies," he said.
Quinn called for a ban on the sale and possession of military-style "assault" weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines. He said concealed carry legislation that a federal court has ordered must "ensure that guns are kept out of everyday public places because don't belong in our schools, shopping malls or sports stadiums."
The governor made a renewed pitch for legalization of gay marriage after a Senate panel Tuesday advanced legislation to do just that.
"Marriage equality is coming to Illinois," he said.
Quinn's big ideas and their prospects of going anywhere this spring run headlong into his exceptionally low standing with voters and his own political vulnerability as he enters the second half of his first full term.
In November, only one in four Illinois voters thought he was doing a good job, while 64 percent disapproved of his job, according to a survey by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling, which characterized Quinn as the least popular governor in the country.
That poor public support has clipped Quinn's power to move things in the Legislature and left him weakened heading into the 2014 election cycle, where three-term Attorney General Lisa Madigan and former U.S. Commerce Secretary William Daley have not ruled out challenging the governor in a primary.