Gov. Pritzker’s political outlook is mixed as re-election looms – Crain’s Chicago Business

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When a politician loudly cancels a widely expected tax hike, you know something’s up.

That something often starts with the calendar, as in the onset of re-election season. You can bet your ballot box the calendar at least partially explains why Gov. J.B. Pritzker a few days ago announced he’s not going to raise your income tax after all—just as his re-election campaign begins to come into focus.

What kind of shape is the billionaire hotel scion and investment guru turned politician really in as he readies to face voters again?

The limited amount of polling that’s been done in recent months suggests that his numbers aren’t bad, but aren’t what they once were, either. For instance, one survey in January taken for the Democratic Governors’ Association showed Pritzker with a decent but not mind-boggling job approval rating of +5, with 50 percent of voters approving and 45 percent disapproving. Another survey Republicans are talking about has Pritzker now below 50 percent but not too far below.

One GOP strategist terms that “incredibly weak.” One Democratic strategist says those numbers are OK if Pritzker tweaks a few things. Says Team Pritzker officially, “The governor is focused on the containing COVID-19, effectively distributing vaccines, strengthening our economy and responsibly running the state. While Republicans continue to deny science and hamper our economic recovery . . . we are confident that the people of Illinois recognize the two distinct choices of leadership and support the governor’s response.”

The truth is it’s too soon to tell for sure. But here are four things to watch.

The first is whether Pritzker finally can rid himself of the taint of Mike Madigan, now the former speaker of the Illinois House but still chairman of the Democratic Party of Illinois.

The Madigan hangover—why should we trust crooked Springfield with more money?—probably is what killed Pritzker’s graduated income tax amendment last November. Republicans will still try to wrap Madigan around Pritzker’s neck at every possible opportunity. The governor needs to put more distance there—fast. Trust me, Madigan will understand why he’s under the bus.  

A second item worth watching is Pritzker’s upcoming new budget. Despite his decision not to raise the current flat income tax, there’s still a lot of budget detail we don’t know, notably whether Congress will come to the state’s aid with a big check from President Joe Biden’s pending $1.9 trillion COVID relief bill. If Biden delivers, Pritzker will be able to breathe much easier. If not, some distasteful spending cuts and other revenue enhancers are on the way.

Of course, Pritzker could have avoided much of this nastiness if he’d actd like the bean-counting businessman he is and moved to slash overly rich state pensions, one way or another. But that, sadly, does not appear to be in the cards.

A third area to watch: COVID, and whether the administration properly handles a pandemic that threatens every voter.

Polling shows Pritzker actually gets pretty good numbers for his handling of pandemic, markedly higher than his overall job approval rating. But the state has stumbled getting unemployment aid out the door, and his partial economic shutdown has been extremely unpopular in some regions of Illinois. Meanwhile, distribution of COVID vaccines got off to a slower start than it should have, though the state’s numbers have been improving lately. Voters surely are tired of the pandemic. I know I am. But if Pritzker can point to relative success and a return to relative normalcy this summer, lots of political problems will melt away.

One more: a state Republican Party that’s a shadow of its former self needs to find a candidate. I doubt U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts or other big names will take the plunge, and the only known declared candidate, Schaumburg roofing company owner Gary Rabine, is politically known only in pro-Trump circles.

Bottom line: There are issues to exploit. And a governor with a few billion dollars waiting to whack anyone who dares. But it’s still pretty early.

Feeds,News,State,Politics

via “Illinois Politics” – Google News https://ift.tt/2DKMb2N

February 11, 2021 at 08:26PM

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