SPRINGFIELD — J.B. Pritzker finally gets the keys to drive Illinois on Monday, and there’s no shortage of voices offering suggestions about what route he should take as governor.
Pritzker, a Democrat, is scheduled to take the oath of office at a two-hour ceremony at 11 a.m. at the Bank of Springfield Center in Springfield. A black-tie-optional celebration, which tickets starting at $250 each, is at the Illinois State Fairgrounds on Monday night.
Pritzker, billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel chain fortune who defeated GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, will lead a state mired in deeply rooted financial problems and a hemorrhaging population. He has pledged to overhaul the income-tax structure, advance a capital construction plan for roads and bridges, legalize marijuana, explore sports betting and increase the minimum wage.
The 101st General Assembly was sworn in on Wednesday. Democrats have been in control of the legislature for more than 15 years. This session sees Democrats with supermajorities in both chambers, meaning they don’t need Republican votes to advance legislation if they stick together.
State Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, who’s already working closely with Pritzker as senate minority leader, said he’s confident Republicans will still have input, including on his highest priority: repairing the state’s shaky financial future.
“Gov. Pritzker says that is his No. 1 goal. I believe it is,” said Brady. “If we’re going to create jobs and bring job creators here, we need to focus on stability.”
He said a good first step would be a bipartisan program to improve the state’s infrastructure that decayed further during a two-year budget impasse under Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan of Chicago.
Brady said his caucus could work with the governor on increasing gambling revenue or motor fuel tax, but a “mileage tax” is a nonstarter. That would track how many miles each resident drives and tax accordingly.
He anticipates disagreement on some of Pritzker’s broader economic measures, including a graduated income tax that would tax residents more if they make more, and a minimum wage increase.
The Cabinet also is taking shape.
Lawmakers on Monday backed a plan by Pritzker giving approval to a change in state law to increase salaries by 15 percent for Cabinet members he hopes to hire.
“Some folks in the campaign team approached me and I had … lengthy conversations, kind of going up the ladder, until I had a long conversation — in excess of an hour as a matter of fact — with the governor-elect himself,” said former state Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican tapped to run the Department of Revenue.
“I think people will find him to be an engaging, enthusiastic individual who wants to move this state forward,” Harris said last week at what was his Stratton Building legislative office. Harris, 70, didn’t seek a new term in the House, so his tenure as a legislator ended Wednesday with the inauguration of the 101st General Assembly.
And former state Sen. John Sullivan, a Rushville Democrat, said that after many people prompted him to apply to head the Department of Agriculture, he did so.
Sullivan said he had meetings with “some of the governor’s folks,” trying to get an idea if Pritzker would be micromanaging agencies — something he said has been “part of the problem” in the Rauner administration.
“Then I had almost a two-hour sit-down with the governor-elect himself,” Sullivan said. “And we really, really had a good discussion.”
Sullivan, 60, said he wasn’t too involved in the Pritzker campaign, but did support him locally.
“Every time I met him, I came away from the conversation more impressed with … just who he was, I mean his frank, honest assessment of issues,” said Sullivan. “To me, a sign of a good leader is somebody that, when they don’t know the answer, they say, ‘I don’t know … but I’ll do my best to try and find it out.’
“And he has done that on several occasions. He comes right out and says, ‘I don’t know anything about agriculture, and I’m going to have to rely on people that know.'”
Sullivan also said he was “very impressed” with Pritzker’s talk of bipartisanship.
State Rep. Tim Butler, a Springfield Republican, said he’s not sure how many Republicans Pritzker will ultimately have in his administration, but “certainly, putting Rep. Harris in there was a big deal.” He noted that Harris also led the Illinois National Guard as the state’s adjutant general and is “one of our top people in the state when it comes to revenue and the budget. So I think that’s really good.”
Butler also noted Sullivan’s involvement with agriculture — Sullivan has a 200-acre farm that produces mostly grain but also has a small cow herd and has long worked in his family’s auction business — bodes well.
Sullivan is, Butler said, “well respected across both sides of the aisle. I’ve heard nothing but positive things about John as the director-designate. I think he’ll do a great job.”
Pritzker on Sunday held an open house at the Old State Capitol in Springfield.
State Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican, said one way or the other, citizens will know a lot more about what kind of governor Pritzker will be soon. Pritzker is expected to deliver at least one major address — on the state’s budget — in the next two months.
“I think the tone for the next four years is going to be set by how things go this spring,” said Barickman. “The fortune tellers will be able to predict a lot based on what happens between now and March.”
The Bloomington Pantagraph and The State Journal-Register contributed to this report.