J.B. Pritzker took the oath of office shortly after noon on Monday, becoming Illinois’ 43rd governor.
In his speech afterward, Pritzker, a 53-year-old Chicago Democrat, offered optimistic rhetoric, more broad descriptions of where he would lead Illinois – and still few details.
He also made the odd claim that Illinois is not broken. Perhaps he will change his mind after a year or two of trying to build a balanced budget. The state’s worst-in-the-union credit rating makes borrowing expensive. The $250 billion in unfunded pension obligations chew a bigger hole in the budget each year. Illinois can’t pay its bills on time, legislators lack the political will to make spending cuts, and the state constitution prohibits making changes to already promised pension benefits.
“Everything” might not be broken, but there’s a whole lot that needs fixing.
Pritzker did acknowledge the mess in which Illinois finds itself. He recalled the words of a preacher after the Great Chicago Fire in 1871, who told parishioners inside his ruined church that “If you’ll stay here, I will, and work together and help each other out of our troubles.”
Pritzker has shown some openness to working with Republicans as well in shaping the future of Illinois. He attended a post-swearing-in party for Republican lawmakers last week, and also hired former State Rep. David Harris, R-Arlington Heights, as revenue director.
But the Democrats have firm control of both chambers of the Legislature, and Pritzker promised that those who approach problems from a partisan perspective would be met with “great political will.”
The speech offered more clues as to how Pritzker could exert that will.
There will be a move toward a graduated income tax, specifics of which, including who would pay more, we still have not seen.
He reiterated his plans to legalize, regulate and tax cannabis, although how that would happen, and when, is unclear.
Pritzker said Illinois was “the nation’s supply chain hub and must be built like it,” but offered no details of how much he would spend on a new capital plan, or how the state would raise the money.
He spoke about increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour, saying it would be good for our economy, and talked of providing assistance to small business owners.
There were other applause lines, calling for the nation’s best-paid teachers, for universal early childhood education, for lessening the burdens of student loans and medical bills, for having Illinois abide by terms of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
The details of all that, Pritzker chose to save for another day – a day that must come soon.
If the governor remains open to suggestions, we hope that legislators and advisers will be able to move him toward proposals that will do the most good for Illinois.
We fear that if the governor can’t see what’s already broken in the state, he may be slow to recognize when new fees and taxes make things worse.