Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker delivered his annual State of the State address last Wednesday, highlighting accomplishments of his first year in office and outlining goals for the spring legislative session.
“The State of our State is growing stronger each day,” Pritzker said.
The second-year governor listed several reasons for that belief, including the state’s economy, increased minimum wage, capital plan, balanced budget, increased early childhood education funding, increased state funding for childcare, raised age to purchase tobacco, consolidation of 650 downstate and suburban first responder pension systems and legal recreational marijuana.
“By almost every measure, over the past year we’ve improved the financial wellbeing, health, education and safety of the residents of Illinois – and we did it working together,” Pritzker said.
The governor then spoke about his goals for the current legislative session, with the main priority being ethics reform for politicians.
His plans for that include a prohibition on a “revolving door” where legislators can leave office and immediately become lobbyists and listening to recommendations from the bipartisan Legislative Ethics Commission.
“We have to work together to confront a scourge that has been plaguing our political system for far too long,” Pritzker urged. “We must root out the purveyors of greed and corruption — in both parties — whose presence infects the bloodstream of government. It’s no longer enough to sit idle while under-the-table deals, extortion or bribery persist.”
Pritzker also said he wants to reform the criminal justice system by phasing out cash bail and following many of the 27 recommendations made by the bipartisan Illinois State Commission on Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform, which former Gov. Bruce Rauner created.
A final reform measure Pritzker said he wants the legislature to pass was one lowering property taxes for residents.
“Local governments continue to max out their levies even when they don’t need to,” Pritzker said. “There are perverse incentives in state law that encourage that. We can change the law to support local governments and lower property taxes. And with nearly 7,000 units of government in Illinois, it’s time to empower local taxpayers to consolidate or eliminate them.”
A new issue Pritzker wants to address is clean energy legislation “that reduces carbon pollution, promotes renewable energy and accelerates electrification of our transportation sector.”
“We saw the effects of climate change right here in Illinois last year with a polar vortex, devastating floods, record lake levels and emergency declarations in more than a third of Illinois’ counties,” Pritzker said.
The speech was met with mixed reactions from local legislators.
“The past year we saw great strides toward a better future for our community, and we are on the path to a stronger Illinois, but there is still a long way to go,” state Rep. Nathan Reitz (D-Steeleville) said. “Passing a bipartisan, balanced budget that prioritizes creating good-paying jobs and working with my colleagues to address the needs of hard-working families will be the foundation for a thriving economy.”
“My first priority will always be representing the interests and needs of the people in our community while working to create a better jobs market, develop more opportunities for practical education and build a more robust economy for this generation and those to come,” Reitz added.
State Sen. Paul Schimpf (R-Waterloo) was more critical of Pritzker’s words.
“While I commend the governor’s positive attitude and calls to find common ground, his speech ignored the looming financial catastrophe our state faces if we cannot curtail our insatiable appetite for expansive government and higher taxes,” Schimpf said. “During this period of national economic growth, we should be getting our financial house in order, paying down our bill backlog, and attaining pension solvency.
“Just as we do in our own homes, we simply cannot spend what we don’t have. Raising taxes on hard-working Illinois families is not the answer. Instead, Gov. Pritzker seems determined to remake our state into a more radical version of California through dramatic spending increases.”
Illinois GOP Chairman Tim Schneider echoed Schimpf’s thoughts on Pritzker’s fiscal decisions, and he urged the governor to keep his promise for ethics perform.
“With three months to go on a Fair Maps Amendment deadline, nothing less than urgent action by the governor is acceptable,” Schneider said, referring to Republicans’ effort to get non-partisan legislative redistricting. “But there is one person who stands in the way of these critical changes. Mike Madigan has slow-walked ethics reform and refuses to support the non-partisan redrawing of legislative maps. Now is the time for Pritzker to show Madigan that the status quo in Springfield must change.”