The mood is jubilant. Illinoisans are celebrating the legislature's dismissal of Rod Blagojevich and giving a warm welcome to new Gov. Pat Quinn. But the celebrating could sour quickly as Quinn sizes up the major challenges ahead of him. From a disastrous state budget picture to a friendly but wary legislature, the government-reforming chief executive knows the burdens he's facing.
The mood is jubilant. Illinoisans are celebrating the legislature's dismissal of Rod Blagojevich and giving a warm welcome to new Gov. Pat Quinn.
But the celebrating could sour quickly as Quinn sizes up the major challenges ahead of him. From a disastrous state budget picture to a friendly but wary legislature, the government-reforming chief executive knows the burdens he's facing.
"This is probably the most trying, difficult time as a state," Quinn said at his first Statehouse news conference Thursday night, shortly after being sworn in.
Here is a closer look at the key obstacles Quinn must clear in the coming weeks and months:
Blagojevich leaves behind a state budget and economy in shambles.
The budget deficit could be $4 billion or even greater this year, Quinn says. Service providers are falling woefully behind in getting reimbursed by the state. Unemployment continues to rise. Deep spending cuts Blagojevich made last summer could only be the beginning.
Quinn's job is made even tougher by the quick transition and timeline.
The governor is scheduled to present his budget proposal for the budget year that begins July 1 by the middle of February. But Quinn plans to ask for a one-month delay. The reason? He's starting from ground zero.
He doesn't know how bad the budget numbers are, blaming a lack of cooperation by the Blagojevich administration.
"I wasn't given access to all the information necessary," Quinn said. "I think that (delay) will give us a little time to assess the damage, find out what the deficit truly is. I think the governor has to level with the people of Illinois."
Then he's got to figure out a solution. Nothing will be easy.
"Our fiscal problems are on both sides of the balance sheet. It's not just revenue, it's spending," said Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon.
Deep spending cuts will prompt outcry from groups throughout the state. Blagojevich has warned repeatedly over the past week that Democrats, led by Quinn, will approve a major tax increase to close the gap.
Quinn has avoided being pinned down on tax increases, saying he needs more time to map out a plan. A political backlash awaits if tax increases are part of the mix.
Another challenge for Quinn is cleaning up what Blagojevich left behind.
Aside from the budget mess, there's a real question of how to make ethics changes that can actually stop the cycle of corruption state government has seen time and again.
Quinn is making ethics a priority, using his first executive order to bring the reform commission he created a few weeks ago under the governor's authority. He's promising integrity will be restored throughout government.
Republicans, though, are taking Quinn to task for supporting Blagojevich's re-election in 2006 and not fighting corruption as lieutenant governor.
Quinn also must make delicate decisions about personnel and policy changes in state government. Does he clean house of Blagojevich appointees? Does he quickly undo some of Blagojevich's unpopular decisions?
"I think it would behoove this governor to rid state government of those individuals before he starts his term in earnest," Righter said.
Quinn isn't making any announcements about personnel for now.
"If you're not doing a good job, then you should be, you know, concerned," Quinn said of state employees. "But if you are doing a good job, being diligent, that's what we're looking for."
But already he's moving to undo some of Blagojevich's actions, such as a last-minute appointment for a former state lawmaker to run the Department of Natural Resources and reopening shuttered state parks.
"I think in these hard times where a lot of families can't take a lot of vacations out of state, our state parks are precious," Quinn said.
Other moves will need further review, he says.
Lawmakers are greeting Quinn's promotion as a chance to start fresh, mending divisions that have brought Springfield to a standstill.
Quinn is meeting regularly with his fellow Democratic statewide officeholders, and the four legislative leaders were on hand Thursday to see him be sworn in on the House floor.
He said at a news conference Friday that he hopes this spring session is the "most productive, reform-minded" session in recent memory - a stark contrast to Blagojevich's habit of ignoring and feuding with lawmakers.
"My predecessor involved himself too much in friction, isolating himself from the public and from others in government and I'm not going in that direction," Quinn said.
Lawmakers see that as promising.
"We'll have a chance to talk with him and interact, both formally and informally," said Rep. Jack Franks, D-Woodstock.
But not being Blagojevich doesn't guarantee success.
Quinn has frustrated lawmakers in the past with his reform efforts, from cutting back the size of the legislature to trying to give voters the ability to recall state officials.
He'll be in position to run for re-election in 2010, which could put him at odds with other top leaders. For example, Attorney General Lisa Madigan is thinking about a run, and her father is powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan.
Lawmakers also will be watching carefully that Quinn doesn't just propose feel-good, populist ideas that aren't practical. He'll need to build credibility quickly, some say.
"He's going to have to put a lot of meat on what he rolls out. It's going to have make good sense," said Sen. Christine Radogno, R-Lemont.
Ryan Keith can be reached at (217) 788-1518 or firstname.lastname@example.org.