SPRINGFIELD – Minutes after the Senate put the final touches on first-term Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s sweeping legislative agenda Sunday, the governor addressed media and delivered a message: “Illinois is back.”
“Today, the people of Illinois can be proud that we are putting state government back on the side of working families,” Pritzker said at the news conference. “They can be proud that we are restoring fiscal responsibility after many years of crisis and deficits.”
Pritzker stood beside Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady, a Bloomington Republican, and several senators of both parties as he addressed the media in his office after receiving overwhelming bipartisan approval on several key measures.
“Throughout this session, Senate Republicans were not afraid to speak up when needed, and were not afraid to stand together when warranted,” Brady said in a statement. “I commend Governor Pritzker for working across the aisle on those key issues that produced bipartisan support. Now, as we move forward, Senate Republicans will continue to fight for the issues important to Illinois residents.”
Brady’s remarks echoed those of House Republican Leader Jim Durkin when his chamber adjourned one night prior.
“As I’ve said before, we can get great things done for Illinois families as long as we respect the principles and priorities of each caucus,” Durkin, of Western Springs, said. “In doing so, we have passed historic education reform, two bipartisan, balanced budgets and now important reforms that will grow jobs. I am proud to have worked with the legislative leaders and the governor to finally do what’s right for Illinois families and businesses.”
Pritzker touted the bipartisan process and the working groups that negotiated the budget behind closed doors. The 1,500 page document was released publicly just 12 hours before it was approved.
“(F)or the first time in many years, we met our most basic responsibility: a real balanced budget. 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.”
Legislative leaders from both parties called the $40 billion operating budget a balanced, responsible state funding effort, and Republicans emphasized the inclusion of several pro-business reforms and tax incentives that were added to the package upon their request.
Those measures include tax incentives aimed at enticing data centers to locate in Illinois; eliminating reporting of the retailer's discount in the comptroller's tax expenditure report; eliminating the franchise tax; reinstating the manufacturers purchase credit; and a “Blue Collar Jobs Act to help attract large scale projects.”
While the passage of the budget itself gave Pritzker a major victory, it often seemed an afterthought as the General Assembly passed a slew of other hot-button issues.
Those include a $45 billion capital infrastructure plan for road, bridge, building and broadband internet projects, a massive gambling expansion, legalization of recreational marijuana, a reproductive rights expansion bill, a graduated tax constitutional amendment and a minimum wage increase.
The infrastructure plan is the first in more than 10 years and is made possible by revenues expected to come from sports betting licenses, a $1 increase to the state’s cigarette tax and a doubling of the state’s motor fuel tax to 38 cents from 19 cents along with increased driver’s license fees among others.
The marijuana legalization proposal includes social justice components that Pritzker said he would pass on the campaign trail, and the gambling expansion includes a new casino license for Chicago and five other communities as well as sports betting legalization.
“I had conversations with people from the moment that I took office, even before that, to this moment, across the aisle, in my own party,” Pritzker said. “And the truth is that we changed legislation, we made sure that we were taking into account the views of people all across the spectrum. And you know, sometimes I agreed, sometimes I disagreed. But we got a lot done.”
Upon adjournment, Pritzker said he will work to ensure new policies are implemented correctly before returning for the fall veto session and the second legislative session of his first term.
“Make no mistake. We still have a lot of work ahead,” he said. “Our budget and pension challenges unfolded over many years, and they won’t go away overnight. We have more big things to do: to bring more efficiencies to state government, to grow our economy at a faster rate, to create jobs, to invest in our future.”