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Pritzker lays out second-year agenda

Crain's Chicago Business

Tuesday, January 14, 2020  |  Column  |  Greg Hinz

Budget--State (8) , Pritzker, J.B.

The governor wants more of the same—like another balanced budget—and has an understanding with the mayor on a Chicago casino. But tougher fights over pensions, taxes and legislative maps await.

He’d like a repeat of his first year, in which he got his heart’s desire and then some of the General Assembly.

But as Gov. J.B. Pritzker begins his second year in office today, he faces much harder-to-achieve tasks, from passing his graduated income amendment to taming the state’s pension monster and to delivering remap “reform.” And the path he’ll follow on all of those has more than a little uncertainty to it.

In a phone interview, Pritzker referenced only in passing some of last year’s accomplishments, from raising the state’s minimum wage to enacting a $45 billion capital plan and strengthening abortion rights. He said he’ll begin year two by focusing on a bit of advice from one of his GOP predecessors, Jim Edgar, to enact a balanced state budget—in Pritzker’s case, for the second year in a row.

“We’ve got to keep on with our progress,” he said.  “We’ve got a lot more to accomplish.”

Priority two is curbing the state’s notorious political corruption, with federal agents having targeted or indicted members of both legislative chambers.

Pritzker didn’t mention by name House Speaker Mike Madigan, whom the governor has been slow to criticize despite increasing pressure to do so. He did say he favors requiring officials to add far more detail in economic disclosure filed with the state, and said he is “skeptical” that any official of state or local government should be allowed to be a paid lobbyist dealing with other layers of government.  

Pritzker and his office later were silent on what some consider the acid test for ending reform: Ensuring that upcoming reapportionment of legislative and congressional districts is done in non-partisan fashion that doesn’t work to the advantage of insiders and incumbents. Pritzker has said only that he’ll veto an “unfair” map, but has not defined that term, perhaps leery of offending senior leaders of his own party.

The governor was a little more specific on his graduated income-tax amendment, again dangling the possibility of guaranteeing that a greater share of the proceeds will go to pay off the state’s huge pension debt.  Pritzker has offered $200 million a year, but in our chat said, “It could be more.”

The governor took an unusual partisan shot at Springfield Republicans when I asked him why a legislative panel that’s been considering ways to mandate  property-tax relief seems to be dissolving amid squabbles between Democrats and Republicans.

Some of the Republicans taking shots at a draft report “voted against” a bill to save money by allowing hundreds of police and fire pension funds around the state to consolidate their investment function, Pritzker said. Still, he added, “I’ve been listening. I hear good ideas on both sides of the aisle.”

Pritzker declined to endorse any specific idea. But some strategists believe his graduated income-tax amendment could hit electoral troubles unless some property-tax relief is guaranteed.

The governor also indicated that Mayor Lori Lightfoot and he are in agreement on proposed legislation designed to revive a proposed Chicago casino. Lightfoot needs some of the revenue from the gambling center to pay pension costs, and Pritzker needs some for debt service on his capital plan. The two officials “have a common understanding” about what should be in the bill, but they’re not the only interested parties in the Capitol, Pritzker said.