SPRINGFIELD — Newly elected Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker comes into office with supermajorities in both chambers of the 101st General Assembly, which begins in earnest today.
Pritzker promises to deliver on a progressive legislative agenda that stands in stark contrast with that of his Republican predecessor, former Gov. Bruce Rauner.
Meanwhile, legislative leaders from both parties said they look forward to a new era in state government and a departure from the partisan acrimony that characterized the past 4 years, which led to a historic 2-year budget stalemate.
Here’s a look at some of the issues that likely will dominate discussion during upcoming sessions, and what Pritzker and legislative leaders have said about them.
Pritzker said the legalization, regulation and taxation of recreational cannabis will be one of his first majority legislative efforts, to be accompanied by criminal justice reforms for convicted marijuana offenders in the state. Coupled with an expansion of gambling and the possibility of legalized sports gambling, these initiatives could become new sources of revenue.
Another could be an overhaul of the state’s income tax structure. Although Pritzker never publicly has given specifics for his plan, he has indicated a longer-term policy goal to be move Illinois to a graduated income tax rate, which goes up as income grows.
The governor has no formal role in this process. Instead, it would require an amendment to the state constitution. For that to be successful, three-fifths of lawmakers from both chambers — 36 in the Senate and 71 in the House — would have to place the measure on a ballot. It then would need to gain the approval of 60 percent of voters.
This likely would not happen until the 2020 presidential election, Pritzker noted.
Illinois’ railways, roads, bridges, freshwater arteries and other transportation infrastructure also will be rehabilitated, the governor said, if his plans for a capital bill are successful. He also noted the need to overhaul the state’s information systems, and spoke of delivering high-speed broadband internet coverage to “everyone, in every corner of Illinois” in his inaugural address.
In the same speech to voters, Pritzker said “our obligations as a state outmatch our resources,” yet he promised to introduce and pass a balanced budget that accounts for his new programs without putting the burden on “the starving, the sick and the suffering.”
He also said working men and women “deserve a $15 minimum wage,” which the Senate Labor Committee plans to discuss at a hearing Wednesday. Rauner vetoed a similar bill last year that would have raised the minimum wage from $8.25 to $15 by 2022.
The Democratic Caucus
The General Assembly’s Democratic leadership said they understand the realities of Illinois’ fiscal position. House Speaker Michael Madigan said the state has “a debt load that is far too high” and a “significant budget imbalance” during a speech he made at the House inauguration ceremony Jan. 9.
Senate President John Cullerton said the 2-year budget impasse “threatened the very fabric of our state” during his speech at the Senate’s inauguration ceremony the same day.
But before either chamber can begin work to address that issue, or tackle others, Madigan and Cullerton said lawmakers and Pritzker must take one lesson from the previous administration — Illinoisans are tired of partisan fighting and a lack of action.
Both leaders agreed Illinois’ transportation infrastructure needs state investment, while training Illinois’ workforce for jobs in the health care, transportation and other trade industries is the Senate president’s other main initiative.
Cullerton also called for raising Illinois’ minimum wage.
The Republican Caucus
For the Illinois GOP, the next 2 years present a unique challenge. After losing five seats in the House, and three in the Senate, they now find themselves in a superminority in both chambers and out of power in the governor’s office.
With hopes of a new era of bipartisanship, though, Republicans still hope they can remain relevant and have a voice in the shaping of future legislation, especially when it comes to crafting a budget and making any major changes to the state’s income tax system.
Rep. Jim Durkin of Western Springs and Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington are returning in their roles as the House and Senate minority leaders. Both have said they want to push for more fiscal restraint, pension reforms and a balanced state budget. They also plan to oppose any shift toward a graduated income tax structure that would impose higher tax rates on upper incomes.
One of the first issues Republicans hope to put on the agenda, however, is election reform, and specifically the drawing of state legislative and congressional district maps following the 2020 census.
Earlier this month, the entire House Republican caucus introduced what they are calling a “Fair Maps Amendment,” a proposed constitutional amendment that would hand over the highly politicized task of redistricting to an independent bipartisan commission.
Like Pritzker’s income tax proposal, a change to how legislative maps are drawn would require three-fifths votes from both chambers and a 60 percent approval from voters.
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January 28, 2019 at 06:35PM