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Beneficiaries like new state spending ideas

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SPRINGFIELD — Groups that could benefit from new state spending plans proposed in Gov. Pat Quinn's state of the state message predictably reacted favorably to those ideas Wednesday.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Groups that could benefit from new state spending plans proposed in Gov. Pat Quinn's state of the state message predictably reacted favorably to those ideas Wednesday.

Higher education

Quinn challenged lawmakers to increase the amount of money available to students from low-income families as part of the Monetary Awards Program, or MAP, Grant program.

"While nearly 150,000 Illinois students received state MAP scholarships last year …, just as many qualified applicants were denied because of a lack of funding," Quinn said.

In fiscal 2012, the current state budget, Illinois is on pace to spend $420 million. Last year, Illinois spent $390 million.

But the state will need to balance more spending in the MAP program next year with the hundreds of millions of dollars in state aid payments the state owes to colleges and universities.

Glenn Poshard, president of Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, said his school still is waiting for $86 million from the state.

But Poshard is quick to say he'd rather see students get more in MAP grants.

"MAP grants are a direct investment in the students, and that's fine with us," Poshard said after Quinn's speech. "We want to keep the door open to opportunity to those low-income kids as much as we can."

Kelly Kraft, Quinn's budget spokeswoman, said the governor will deliver more specifics on his plans for the MAP program during his budget speech on Feb. 22.

Job creation credits

The governor touted his job creation history: more jobs at Ford and Chrysler auto plants in Chicago and Belvidere and large increases in the amount of soybeans shipped overseas.

Ford is spending about $117 million and adding 400 jobs, while Chrysler is adding 400 to 500 workers to build newly designed cars.

Quinn inked a deal with a Chinese company to send 6.6 million bushels of Illinois soybeans to a processing facility in China.

But Quinn said more needs to be done when he presented his Jobs Agenda for 2012, which he said will "grow our economy by helping our employers, our working families and our veterans."

The jobs agenda includes investments in high-tech infrastructure to build what he calls "gigabyte" communities, investments in education to have a better trained workforce.

The governor also wants a tax credit, worth between $5 million and $10 million annually, to help veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars find work.

Doug Whitley, president of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, which advocates for businesses statewide, said Illinois already has a $1,200 tax credit for businesses that hire veterans, but it is underused.

Whitley said he doesn't know why the credit is not more popular, but Quinn's push to hire veterans may popularize that tax credit.

"We have 100,000 veterans coming home … and Gov. Quinn is reminding employers that they need to be sensitized to the needs of hiring veterans," Whitley said. "I think it was a positive element" in the speech.

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