Look for fast action to raise the minimum wage, legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use and boost child welfare and early school funding.
Passing a new state budget will be a slog, with a much-needed capital program wrapped into that process.
And while he’ll have some ideas on how to pay off well over $100 billion in pension debt, there is doubt the debt will be paid—without worker concessions.
That’s the word from Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker as he prepares to officially get sworn in on Monday.
In a phone interview on Jan. 11, the state’s incoming chief executive said reporters “will have to wait” until tomorrow to find out what’s in his speech, but dropped a few hints of what to expect as he takes over amid some bipartisan bonhomie but with Democrats holding supermajorities of both the House and Senate.
“We’re going to move quickly on a number of priorities,” he said, specifically noting child care assistance and a minimum wage, adding that the latter will be accompanied by steps to help entrepreneurs and startup firms access capital.
After what I hear has been quite a debate on how quickly to move on a capital bill—and a revenue source to pay for it—Pritzker signaled that it will be a few months before one comes, right around the time that lawmakers adopt a budget. The budget “leads to everything else,” he said.
Pritzker was far less committal when I asked him about passing a big gambling package, one that could include a casino for Chicago, a top priority of outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “I’m not sure that’s my right” to dictate, he said, but did add that he personally sees some potential in expanded online betting on sporting events.
The Chicago Democrat appeared to leave no wiggle room at all on a pension fix that would require worker concessions.
“I’ll be talking about pensions,” Pritzker said. But in general, “What people are owed should be paid.”
Pritzker did not give an indication when he would unveil details of his signature issue: converting the state income tax from a flat to a graduated rate. He only noted that a constitutional amendment will be needed, and that it cannot be presented to voters until at least November 2020.
Pritzker ducked an opportunity to blame anyone in particular for what insiders say are gaping shortfalls in state finances being left behind after years of fighting between outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner and Springfield Democrats. “There’s no question there are holes in the budget,” is all he’d say, at least for now.
Pritzker did signal that his outreach to minority Republicans will continue, even though Democrats have the power to do whatever they want if they stay united. That outreach has included inviting the GOP leaders of the House and the Senate over to his home for dinner, attending a swearing-in party for new Republican lawmakers and naming retiring state Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, to be his revenue director.
“It’s very important that we have not our partisanship, but that we work together. That’s what this administration is all about,” he said. “Can you do it with a supermajority? Yes. But you shouldn’t.”
That may suggest the new governor will have a longer than usual honeymoon, particularly by recent political standards. It won’t continue forever, but will be nice while it lasts.
Update—As expected, Pritzker’s inauguration speech generally sticks to broad themes, rather than ticking off specific items and listing a timetable to implement them. But a few things are worth noting.
In something the business community will like, Pritzker pledged to vigorously promote the state to firms looking for a good place to expand.
As your governor, I’ll be committed to helping us become the fastest-growing big state economy in the nation,” he says in remarks prepared for delivery. “I will be our state’s best chief marketing officer to attract jobs and businesses to Illinois. We will bring capital, technical assistance and mentorship to help Illinoisans across our state start and build new businesses and new jobs. Our economic success depends upon it.”
The new governor also stressed the need for a major capital bill – though he notably did not indicate how he’d pay for it – and again reached across the aisle even though his Democrats have super majorities of both legislative chambers. “With all the challenges Illinois faces, Democrats and Republicans will work together, and we must begin with our most basic responsibilities,” he says.” We will propose, debate and pass a balanced budget this year.”
A harder sell will be Pritzker’s call to move toward a graduated income tax, which would require a constitutional amendment that first must be approved by lawmakers and then ratified by voters in a referendum that can’t occur until at least 2020.
Pritzker is holding firm on that. “ The current tax system is simply unsustainable. Others have lied to you about that fact. I won’t,” he says. “The future of Illinois depends on the passage of a fair income tax, which will bring us into the 21st century like most of our midwestern neighbors, and like the vast majority of the United States.
And while the budget can and must be balanced, slash-and-burn is not his style. “ I won’t balance the budget on the backs of the starving, the sick, and the suffering,” he puts it. “I won’t hollow out the functions of government to achieve an ideological agenda – I won’t make government the enemy and government employees the scapegoats. Responsible fiscal management is a marriage of numbers – and values.”