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Column

STATEHOUSE INSIDER: Did Pritzker prime the pump for his defeat?

Governor got off to a strong start, but he could lose momentum, especially once the gas tax kicks in

Doug Finke
Doug Finke

Remember when J.B. Pritzker got into the race for governor?

If you do, can you recall some of the reaction surrounding his decision to get into the race? It basically went: Do we need another insanely rich guy with no experience in government running for the top government job in the state the first time he ran for public office?

Pritzker made his formal announcement that he was running in April 2017. That was while the budget impasse was still going on, so those who were upset with former Gov. Bruce Rauner’s governing style were still at their angriest. The idea that Pritzker could just be a Democratic version of Rauner ineptness wasn’t reassuring.

But in the end, Pritzker showed that inexperience by itself isn’t necessarily a hindrance to being an effective governor. Having a General Assembly that shares your party affiliation certainly helps, but that wasn’t the only difference from Rauner. To put things over the top at the end, Pritzker listened to Republican interests and accommodated some of them in the final agreements on budgetary issues. It helped ease the tensions that were palpable in the building as the final week of the session got underway.

So a lack of experience and having enough money to start a small country isn’t necessarily a disqualification for being a decent governor.

No question, Pritzker enjoyed an enormously successful first legislative session. The trick now will be to keep it going.

Lawmakers passed what appears to be a balanced budget, and better-than-expected tax collections in recent months that are projected to continue into the next fiscal year made crafting that budget easier. But all sorts of financial wizards have been predicting a major economic slowdown in 2020. If that occurs, it will provide a test of just how good Pritzker is at this job.

“It helps to start with a super-duper majority in both chambers,” Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, said when asked what helped make Pritzker’s first session successful.

This has been mentioned in several other places, but it doesn’t hurt to repeat it, given the ongoing moaning in some places about the gasoline tax increase to pay for road improvements.

The tax is currently 19 cents a gallon. It will increase to 38 cents a gallon to help pay for the capital program. The 19 cents a gallon rate was set in 1990. Had the tax gone up with inflation since then, it would now be ... 38 cents a gallon.

The tax will be tied to inflation from here on out, so lawmakers won’t be voting on it. Wonder if people will notice in a couple of years.

Extra incentive for lawmakers

Sen. Terry Link, D-Vernon Hills, has worked for years on a gambling expansion bill, in part because a casino is going to Waukegan.

It all came to fruition Sunday in the Senate with one final vote. Link was the sponsor. He noted that Sunday was also his anniversary. Link said his wife told him, “Get it done for the people of Illinois and then come home.”

Link called on the Senate to vote for the gambling expansion bill “for the sake of my marriage [and] the sake of the state of Illinois.”

A lot was riding on that vote.

The Illinois Senate – an institution not known for strict or even semi-lax adherence to a schedule – acted with alacrity when it came time to finish up the spring session.

From beginning to end, last Sunday’s session was a little over 2 hours long – and that included time for a caucus. Some senators showed up for Pritzker’s post-session victory lap, but mostly they left Springfield as quickly as possible for the start of summer vacation.

Guess that shows what some motivation will do.

Contact Doug Finke: doug.finke@sj-r.com, 788-1527, twitter.com/dougfinkesjr.

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