Much like today, taxes, the plight of urban areas and even labor issues were among the themes nearly 40 years ago when a U.S. president addressed the Illinois General Assembly.
President Jimmy Carter addressed the General Assembly in May 1978. He talked about the difficulty of reforming taxes, which he said were too high, the future of coal in competition with other fuels and balancing the needs of the people with projects like space exploration.
After his address, Carter took questions from members of the Legislature.
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Two questions focused on the Labor Law Reform Act, a measure to set up a framework for unionizing employees across the country. One legislator noted the loss of manufacturing jobs to southern states with non-union wages. Carter said he supported the bill.
Another member said the measure would be a quote “disastrous piece of legislation for our free enterprise system,” and noted how companies not complying would be quote “blacklisted” from getting federal contracts.
Carter said there has to be some threat of punishment.
“It might be imprisonment in the penitentiary,” Carter said, “it might be a very heavy fine, or it might be a threat of losing government business until they do come into compliance.”
Despite Carter’s support, the measure ultimately failed, but labor issues are still being debated in the Legislature as part of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s “turnaround agenda.”
Another issue that came up during the discussion nearly four decades ago was the plight of urban areas with a question from Democratic Representative Raymond Ewell.
“The urban areas have become decadent in many ways. Some are almost bankrupt and minority employment is around 30 perecent or better in some areas,” Ewell said. “Has your administration made any plans, let’s say perhaps to consider them man-made disaster areas and thereby receiving help?”
Carter didn’t respond directly to that request but talked about the importance of jobs, especially for minority populations in urban areas.
“So we’ll do our part,” Carter said. “I’m sure you’ll do your part to make us bring about some resolution to these longstanding chronic sufferings in our country that are unwarranted primarily because of past discriminations.”
There were also questions for Carter from Illinois lawmakers about foreign policy, social security and inflation.
President Barack Obama will be the first president in nearly 40 years to address the Illinois General Assembly today. It’s unclear if he plans to take questions from lawmakers as Carter did.