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Column

Pritzker’s speech good; now comes hard part

Making reforms a reality on several fronts will challenge second-year governor

Rich Miller
Rich Miller

I’ve read and heard a lot of commentary about what Gov. J.B. Pritzker didn’t say in his State of the State address last month. Some folks are still quite angry that he didn’t address their pet causes.

And the previous day’s guilty plea by former state Sen. Martin Sandoval prompted the news media to focus mainly on the anti-corruption portion of the governor’s speech.

Behind his strong, quote-worthy rhetoric, however, were three concrete proposals:

1) A ban on legislators being paid to lobby;

2) Disclosure of conflicts of interests and punishment for non-compliance; and

3) Forbidding legislators from becoming lobbyists immediately after leaving office.

The House Republicans are already on record in favor of a legislator lobbying ban, and House Republican Leader Jim Durkin has introduced a conflict of interest bill (HB 3954) that would even require attorneys to disclose clients who could pose potential conflicts.

Senate President Don Harmon offered support of the lobbying revolving door provision. Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady said he supports the conflicts of interest disclosure bit.

House Speaker Michael Madigan did not indicate support for anything. The chairman he appointed to head an ethics commission, however, supported all three.

But beyond what Pritzker didn’t say and beyond the corruption angle, the governor did get into some other substance that was lost in the shuffle.

On the subject of property taxes, Pritzker complained about the “perverse incentives in state law” that encourage local governments to “max out” their property tax levies “even when they don’t need to.” He was referring to an unintended consequence of the state’s Property Tax Extension Limitation Law that essentially encourages units of government to tax to the cap every year for fear of forever losing that revenue. What Pritzker wants to do is not yet known.

Pritzker also proposed allowing citizens to initiate consolidating or eliminating units of local government. The General Assembly has passed some limited, highly localized legislation on this topic. Pritzker wants to take it statewide.

Other governors have talked about ethics, property taxes and consolidation and ended up accomplishing little. Pritzker will have to use all of his considerable persuasive powers to move his agenda to the goal line.

He spent a whole lot of his political capital on last year’s mega-agenda, and a governor’s second year is never as “easy” as the first. There is generally an eagerness to help a brand-new governor achieve his goals, but that can wear off.

Pritzker’s clean energy proposals included legislation “that reduces carbon pollution, promotes renewable energy, and accelerates electrification of our transportation sector.”

That matches up with the three “pillars” of the Illinois Clean Jobs coalition. Pritzker also made clear that ComEd’s hegemonic days are over: “I’m not going to sign an energy bill written by the utility companies.”

Harmon told Public Television’s Jak Tichenor after the speech that he didn’t believe anyone was suggesting that Exelon and ComEd shouldn’t be at the bargaining table. “What is encouraging to me,” Harmon said, “is that they won’t be the loudest voice in the room now. The governor made it very clear that he’s going to amplify the voices of other people.”

On the social justice front, the governor said he wants to start phasing out cash bail. He also wants to follow “many of the recommendations made by the bipartisan criminal justice reform commission created by my predecessor, most of whose ideas were never adopted because of the rancor and dysfunction.”

Gov. Bruce Rauner drew widespread praise for his criminal justice reforms, but the issue got lost in his never-ending battles with Democrats.

It was a well-written speech, but the really hard part comes soon when he introduces his next budget, which, at last check, was projected to be $1.8 billion out of balance.

Note to readers: Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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