There were calls for good will toward each other and bipartisanship Wednesday as members of the 101st General Assembly were sworn in. There undoubtedly will be more of the same uttered Monday when Democrat J.B. Pritzker and the five other statewide constitutional officers are sworn in and begin their terms.
There is evidence the state’s new governor is sincere: On Wednesday, Pritzker and Lieutenant Gov.-elect Juliana Stratton stopped by a Republican inauguration celebration. Reports say the pair and GOP leaders Sen. Bill Brady and Rep. Jim Durkin talked with attendees about the need to work together to create a better Illinois – refreshing news, considering the state of partisan politics in the country.
There were other promising signs last week about what type of government Pritzker wants to lead: On Saturday, the Pritzker-Stratton Inaugural Committee had scheduled a day of service, providing more than a dozen opportunities throughout the state where Illinoisans could lend their time and talent to help a social service agency. Days of service are excellent ways to put words into practice: Let’s work together to fix what we can.
It’s the type of mindset Illinois needs in its leaders if we are ever to truly find solutions to the many problems plaguing our state. Most of the state’s woes are financial: Unfunded pension liability of more than $133 billion; more than $7 billion in unpaid bills; a budget that is unbalanced by at least $1 billion; terrible credit ratings; and an economy that could use a boost. The outmigration of Illinoisans is likely going to cost the state one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and possibly two. It’s already costing the state lost tax revenue.
Illinois Democrats don’t necessarily need bipartisanship to address these problems. They control all six statewide constitutional offices, and the House and Senate both have more-than-comfortable Democratic majorities to push through any legislation they want.
Yet that isn’t what this politically fractured country needs. Too many people identify themselves by their political party. Compromise seems to be a lost skill. In Illinois, it has often taken dire circumstances – like the 2-year budget impasse – for elected officials to cross party lines. The real-world consequences of that budget stalemate were devastating: The social service agencies that survived – many didn’t – could help fewer people. Funding for higher education was drastically slashed. Vendors and health care providers waited months to be reimbursed. The list goes on and on, and the aftershocks from it are still being felt.
Pritzker, and other leaders of both parties, have the chance to build a coalition this state badly needs. After 4 years of bitter divisiveness in our state’s politics, a respite where our elected officials work toward common goals that benefit the people would be welcome – and could serve as the kick-off to creating an environment where Illinois can grow.
This newspaper editorial board did not endorse Pritzker, largely because of unease over his unwillingness to share specifics about major initiatives, like his plan for a progressive income tax and how he would pay for the many initiatives he wanted to pursue. We’re still wanting to hear those details, hopefully soon after he takes office, perhaps in his budget address.
But we have been more than impressed with his actions since being elected. He formed a bipartisan transition team that included former GOP Gov. Jim Edgar and former Senate Republican leader Christine Radogno. It’s a sign that Pritzker, who has never held political office, is willing to learn from not just members of his own party but from Republicans who were known for their willingness to work across the aisle.
He is assembling a solid cabinet to run state agencies, even keeping on a few directors from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s tenure. Hiring Dan Hynes – who was talking as early as 2002 about the financial problems looming over Illinois – as a deputy governor was another smart choice.
These are the actions of a person whose first priority is doing what’s best for the state’s constituents. They are the moves of a leader who realizes it takes a team to tackle the problems facing Illinois, and of someone who wants the best and brightest on that team. We are encouraged by these steps, but know the proof will come in what actions Pritzker takes after inauguration day. But if he continues along the path he has, Pritzker may well be just what Illinois needed. Let’s hope so, for the sake of our state.