It took a couple of extra days, but the Illinois General Assembly Sunday wrapped up the 2019 spring session, one that Gov. J.B. Pritzker called “one of the most consequential sessions in this state’s history.”
Pritzker, speaking after the Senate adjourned Sunday evening, said skeptics didn’t think he could get the legislature behind all of his “ambitious agenda,” which included a balanced budget, abortion rights, raising the minimum wage, expanding gambling and legalizing recreational marijuana.
“They said that Springfield doesn’t move that quickly,” he said. “What the skeptics failed to realize is that no obstacle can dwarf the transformative power of a state government and legislature that stands up for working families.”
The Senate on Sunday gave final approval to a massive gambling expansion bill and to bills that will raise taxes and fees to finance a $45 billion public works construction program.
It means motorists will pay an extra 19 cents in state tax for a gallon of gasoline, vehicle registration fees will go up and smokers will pay $1 per pack more for cigarettes.
Accompanied by Senate Democrats and Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington, Pritzker took a victory lap in his office and distributed a 3 ½-page list of accomplishments from the session. It was a marked difference from the previous four years under former Gov. Bruce Rauner.
“Frankly, we all worked together on this,” Pritzker said of the difference this year. “We did talk. My door was open to everyone. The truth is we changed legislation. We made sure we were taking into account the views of people all across the spectrum.”
Brady echoed the idea of bipartisan cooperation in this session.
“We showed there was a common ground to be found on key issues,” he said. “We came to the table, we didn’t seek to turn it over.”
A day earlier, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs said the situation in the Capitol was difficult, but “we worked it out. We worked out this very difficult day, both sides of the aisle, both chambers and the governor. Today we figured it out, we got it done.”
“This has been an extraordinarily productive session of the General Assembly. Simply historic,” said House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. “So, Mr. Governor, do you see what a difference it makes to have somebody new in the governor’s office? I understand the difference.”
Pritzker was in the House chamber as it finished its business for the year on Saturday.
Despite the good feelings Sunday, there is still work ahead. Pritzker noted it’s taken years for the state’s finances to get into the shape they are and to sink the state’s credit rating to the lowest in the nation.
Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, also said the state needs to continue working on its bill backlog, even though the newly passed budget will make a dent in it. The state will issue $1.4 billion in bonds that will be used to pay down old bills. The money can be borrowed from banks at a lower interest rate than the state has to pay vendors.
Cullerton also said the state still needs to address pension reform. Tax collections came in better than expected in April and are expected to continue next year which will enable the state to make its pension payment on time.
Lawmakers approved a roughly $40 billion state budget for next year and also a $582 million supplemental spending plan for the current fiscal year. Among other things, the supplemental includes money to pay step increases and back pay to unionized workers who were denied them under the Rauner administration.
The $45 billion capital plan will be a combination of projects finances with bonds and pay-as-you-go projects financed with current revenues. To finance the plan, the state’s gasoline tax will double from 19 cents a gallon to 38 cents a gallon. However, the tax is also being indexed to inflation and will increase as the cost of living increases. This is to ensure the state doesn’t again go decades without raising the tax while watching its purchasing power for construction projects steadily erode.
The Senate Sunday also gave final approval to a gambling expansion bill that has been years in the making. It will add six new casinos around the state and allow racetracks to install slot machines and table games to bolster their finances. Video gaming operators will also be able to add a machine to their operations.
Opponents of the bill said it will create more problem gamblers and fall short of revenue projections because the market for gambling will be oversaturated.