One Illinois is 1

A new guv, a new fair tax, and a new record cold temperature: looking back on our first anniversary

M.K. and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have their first dance as the state’s first couple to Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is” at their inaugural celebration in January. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

M.K. and Gov. J.B. Pritzker have their first dance as the state’s first couple to Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is” at their inaugural celebration in January. (One Illinois/Ted Cox)

By Ted Cox

What a year it’s been. What a difference a year makes.

One Illinois marked its first anniversary April 30. Forgive us for not celebrating sooner, but it’s been busy for all Illinois news outlets with the General Assembly scrambling to confront a series of key issues — a fair new income tax, legalization of marijuana and sports betting, statewide teacher and nurse shortages, and a much-needed capital bill — before the session is scheduled to end May 31.

We looked back on 2018 just before New Year’s Day, and it had been an eventful year. We saw the preservation of the Harley Clarke Mansion after much back-and-forth in the Evanston City Council. We saw Illinois defeat Iowa for the 11th time in the last dozen years in the Great River Tug Fest across the Mississippi River in Port Byron. And we saw Illinois elect a new governor, J.B. Pritzker, in November.

Since then, the pace has only picked up. Pritzker was inaugurated in January, released his first budget proposal in February, already looking ahead to a graduated income tax, and then revealed the details of that “fair tax” in March, followed by an internet tax calculator meant to combat disinformation by showing just how the proposed progressive tax would affect Illinois residents, with 97 percent projected to have their taxes lowered or at worst remain the same.

Under Pritzker, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency moved to shut down Sterigenics in February over its release of carcinogenic ethylene oxide into the air in Willowbrook. Concern over EtO emissions spread from the Stop Sterigenics group in the southwest suburbs to Stop EtO in Lake County.

Chicago elected a new mayor, Lori Lightfoot, in April, as other municipalities across the state also chose their leadership. Mike Henry won re-election as mayor of Carbondale, but Tyrone Coleman couldn’t win a third term in Cairo.

Teachers fought for a hike in their minimum salary to address a statewide shortage, with an Illinois Education Association poll finding overwhelming support, and nurses also combated issues that were causing many to leave the medical field, according to a new study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute.

State Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill led the way in calling for a $40,000 minimum salary for teachers, and prompted by civics students at Carlinville High School he also backed a move to make daylight saving time permanent starting next year — both proposals still pending in the General Assembly.

Illinois continued to study its population loss, as members of Congress and the Chicago Urban League warned that an undercount in the 2020 U.S. Census could cost Illinois a U.S. representative or more than one, as well as billions of dollars in federal funding.

And we kept finding Illinoisans of abiding interest, including Rich Krueger, a University of Chicago neonatologist who’s gaining fame as a singer-songwriter.

A controversial bus company accused of racist marketing shut down its operations shuttling University of Illinois students between Chicago and Champaign-Urbana. And, in the midst of a brutal winter, Mount Carroll reclaimed the record for lowest temperature ever record in Illinois — 38 below zero on Jan. 31.

Talk about turning a low into a high.

But that’s what Illinoisans tend to do, and that’s an essential part of our mission at One Illinois. Some may spread lies in an attempt to divide us politically, but at One Illinois we find the entire state endlessly entrancing, and that it’s our shared interests among our diversity that make us stronger.

That doesn’t mean we shy from bad news. We pointedly asked, “Why can’t a Democrat be more like a Republican?” At least when it comes to crafting and sticking to a compelling narrative on taxes. We won a binding opinion on a Freedom of Information Act request last year calling on former Gov. Rauner to release emails on how his administration arrived at various government appointments. Rauner sued in his role as governor to keep those emails from being made public, but Pritzker’s administration dropped that suit earlier this year.

Those emails, which now number over 2,000, are trickling out in a series of releases from the Governor’s Office, but with significant redactions. At One Illinois, we’re challenging some of those redactions, but the process is ongoing. We’ll let you know how it goes.

After all, we’re only a year old, and we’re still just getting started.