Pritzker, General Assembly 'get this work done'
Budget, capital bill, sports gambling pass after deadline, joining progressive tax, reproductive rights, legal weed
By Ted Cox
The General Assembly worked after the deadline this weekend to pass almost all major pieces of Gov. Pritzker’s ambitious legislative agenda this session.
A balanced $40.6 billion budget, a $45 billion capital bill, and legal sports gambling all topped the three-fifths supermajority required after Friday’s midnight deadline passed, joining the legalization of marijuana, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, the reaffirmation of reproductive rights, and a constitutional amendment to adopt a graduated income tax as major Pritzker victories in his first months in office.
The Governor’s Office called it the state’s “most sweeping and consequential legislative agenda in a generation,” citing how almost all those measures passed with bipartisan support.
“Today, the people of Illinois can be proud that we are putting state government back on the side of working families,” Pritzker said Sunday in Springfield at a news conference including top legislative leaders from both major political parties. “They can be proud that we are restoring fiscal responsibility after many years of crisis and deficits.
“I want to express to our legislators my heartfelt gratitude for your commitment, your wise counsel, your willingness to listen, compromise, negotiate, change your minds or change mine, and get this work done,” he added.
Pritzker championed the $40.6 billion 2020 spending plan as “a real balanced budget,” adding, “Just a few years ago, simply passing a budget was considered nearly impossible. But this year, by passing a balanced budget, we’ve demonstrated that a progressive, forward-thinking vision is in perfect harmony with fiscal responsibility.” It included a $375 million boost in funding for elementary and secondary education funding, $50 million more for early childhood education, and funding hikes ranking from 3 to 9 percent for higher education. The legislature also expanded student access to federal funds for higher education.
The legislature also turned back a limit on teacher raises, signed into law last year by former Gov. Bruce Rauner, and passed Sen. Andy Manar’s bill to increase the minimum salary for teachers to $40,000 in a bid to recruit educators to address a statewide shortage.
“In our recently released ‘State of Education in Illinois’ survey, we asked Illinoisans what words they most associated with teachers. The two most common words were underpaid and undervalued,” said Kathi Griffin, president of the Illinois Education Association.
“This legislation shows that lawmakers recognize this,” she added. “They can see that salary is one of the main factors that prevents people from going into the profession. There is a teacher shortage and it has a detrimental impact on our children, our state’s most important asset. This will help districts across the state attract and retain the best and brightest and that’s what best for students.”
“Salary is one of the main factors that prevents people from going into the profession.”
IEA President Kathi Griffin on passage of a $40,000 minimum teacher salary (One Illinois/Ted Cox)
Pritzker also acknowledged business reforms pushed by Republican lawmakers, including phasing out the corporate franchise tax, which he said would provide relief to 300,000 small businesses. Other business concessions included tax incentives for data centers and construction job credits under the Blue Collar Jobs Act — both intended to attract businesses to Illinois.
He applauded Democrats and Republicans working together. “I’m thankful that legislators from both parties have come together in good faith in these bipartisan votes,” Pritzker said Saturday. “I’m especially grateful that the four legislative leaders showed that compromise is once again possible in Illinois, with their willingness to negotiate a fiscally responsible budget for the people of our state.”
The so-called Rebuild Illinois capital bill, meanwhile, is the largest in state history and will be funded in part through bonds backed by a doubling of the state’s 19-cent-a-gallon gas tax and hiking the license-plate fee $50. It was split into two parts, horizontal for roads and bridges and vertical for buildings, with the latter to be funded by expanded gambling, including a Chicago casino sought by Mayor Lori Lightfoot, and a dollar-a-pack increase in the cigarette tax.
“After years of neglecting our state’s roads, bridges, mass transit, and buildings, Illinoisans’ health and safety have been jeopardized, and job creation has been hindered,” Pritzker said in a separate statement issued Saturday. “I’m proud that the state is on the verge of adopting a bipartisan infrastructure plan for the first time in a decade. Our plan to rebuild our roads, bridges and communities will create hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout our state. The Rebuild Illinois plan will reinvigorate our economy and strengthen our rightful status as the transportation and supply-chain hub of the nation. … I look forward to signing Rebuild Illinois into law to create jobs and make it easier to do business across our state.”
Not everything made it over the finish line. The House backed a bill to add fingerprints and other requirements for gun licenses, but the Senate did not. The Senate moved to end the estate tax and freeze property taxes if the state maintains education funding, but the House resisted.
Nonetheless, Pritzker declared, “We have transformed the lives of working families all across this state. We have sent a message that Illinois’s third century will not be defined by its fiscal woes but by its unapologetic promise to stand on the side of its working families.”