* My weekly syndicated newspaper column was written on a Friday afternoon deadline…
The governor and his top staff showed again last week that they can make things happen under the Statehouse dome.
To corral 73 votes for a graduated income tax constitutional amendment in a 74-member House Democratic caucus accustomed to extreme coddling and over-protecting its more politically vulnerable members was quite something. Nobody was left off the hook.
The one they missed remains a mystery to pretty much everybody. Rep. Andre Thapedi (D-Chicago) left the chamber during the “fair tax” debate and never returned, vanishing into thin air. He didn’t tell the governor’s office that he’d be skipping the vote and some of his colleagues didn’t even realize he’d left while others could only hazard a guess as to why.
Gov. Pritzker’s effort to make Illinois a progressive Midwestern oasis took a huge leap forward with the passage of that constitutional amendment. Generations of Illinois politicians have tried and failed to get the issue onto the ballot. One of Bruce Rauner’s top priorities when he decided to run for governor was stopping a graduated income tax. And, now, not even five months after the near-billionaire Rauner’s involuntary departure, the voters will soon be given a choice, courtesy of the billionaire Gov. Pritzker.
Both Rauner and Pritzker had and have sweeping, even radical visions of how they wanted to change their state. Where Rauner mostly failed, Pritzker has mostly succeeded. That doesn’t mean Pritzker has chosen the right path, mind you. The Republicans warn (and some Democrats privately fret) that his economic agenda of a $15 an hour minimum wage, a progressive income tax, higher taxes for infrastructure construction and a blizzard of pro-union laws will make the state uncompetitive with its neighbors. But it’s too late to turn back now.
Pritzker vowed to make Illinois law the most pro-choice in the country, and as I write this, he is succeeding. The Reproductive Health Act is ostensibly designed to wipe out the state’s abortion laws that were knocked down by courts in years past to make sure they couldn’t somehow be reactivated if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
You can probably gauge how pro-choice the Pritzker-backed RHA is by looking at the intensity of the opposition. It’s reviled by pro-life activists to the point where a conservative southern Illinois minister giving the morning invocation in the House chambers last week actually called on God to “judge Illinois for the sanctioned destruction of the innocent unborn” two days after the House passed the bill.
The measure even caught the eye of President Donald Trump, who posted a link on his Facebook page to an article about the bill and wrote “The Democrat Party is unhinged! Their radical position on abortion is horrible!”
Yeah, I’m thinking that’s a pretty solidly pro-choice bill.
And then there’s the cannabis legalization bill, which unlike all the others listed above had some bipartisan support in both chambers last week.
Not only is possession of up to 30 grams of weed legalized, but the law will grant clemency to people who were busted for possessing up to that same amount in the past. It contains programs for communities that have been hit hard by the ridiculously punitive “war on drugs.” There’s also a grant and loan program for people in those communities who want to become involved in the cannabis business. And a community college program is created to help folks, including minorities, train for jobs in the industry.
No other state that has legalized cannabis has done anything like this.
None of the above could’ve happened without this particular governor’s support.
Democratic legislators know that Pritzker will have their backs should any of this spring session’s votes haunt them in the next campaign cycle. He has enough money under his couch cushions to fund their campaigns.
Pritzker also truly believes in this stuff. Where others settled for tiny increases in the minimum wage, Pritzker is nearly doubling it. When his most recent Democratic predecessors either rejected income tax hikes or insisted they be “temporary,” Pritzker went all out and proposed permanently raising taxes on the top 3 percent of earners. Gov. Pat Quinn reluctantly signed a way too restrictive medical marijuana bill into law. Pritzker enthusiastically pushed for legalization.
This much change this quickly can frighten people. So, we’ll see what the future holds. But for now, the governor and his supporters can bask in a bit of glory.
* Sun-Times Editorial: From ‘impasse’ to ‘get it passed,’ Illinois surges with stunning legislative session - To understand the historic significance of what transpired, look past marijuana and gambling. Look, instead, at the way in which Democrats and Republicans worked together.
* How J.B. Pritzker got big things done — and what’s coming next: In the end, Democrats got everything they wanted this session, and Republicans were able to include pro-business reforms during last-minute budget and capital plan negotiations.
* Pritzker, Democrats take victory lap while Republicans find reasons to celebrate: As on the House floor Sunday night, Republicans lent their votes to a bill that doubles Illinois’ gas tax for the first time in nearly three decades, from the current 19 cents per gallon to 38 cents, and indexes the gas tax in the future to inflation. The tax revenues will also go toward the state’s Road Fund, where it can’t be touched thanks to a Lockbox Amendment voters approved in November 2016. “I certainly understand why some people might be concerned about voting yes for this,” Brady said during debate on the horizontal capital funding bill late Sunday afternoon. “But I will be voting yes. Our citizens deserve a safe, viable transportation system.”
* SJ-R Editorial: Legislative session one to remember: But a few days of overtime should not overshadow the fact that this legislative session was successful — if you define successful as setting a new trajectory for the state. We’re not saying we agree with everything lawmakers have done during the past five months. But after years of partisan bickering and failures when it came to shoring up the state’s finances, actions taken during 2019 are poised to turn Illinois in a more positive direction. Vital to that effort will be a statewide construction plan. There is no doubt our buildings, roads, bridges and other infrastructure need attention now. Ironing out all the details — including how to raise the billions needed to pay for it — are among the issues lawmakers must address this weekend, and they seem ready to do so.
* Bernie: A new attitude — and one-party dominance — eased the tension: “He’s open to talking to people who disagree with him,” Manar said of Pritzker. “He’s not into punitive response for the slightest disagreements that he has with people of his own party or the other party. That’s as opposite of Bruce Rauner as you could imagine.”
* In overtime, lllinois House OKs new taxes for public works program and a gambling expansion that includes a Chicago casino: The legislative session went into overtime despite the return of one-party Democratic rule in Springfield, with lawmakers addressing new Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s aggressive agenda after four years of dysfunctional government under his predecessor, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. While Pritzker wasn’t able to accomplish his ambitious agenda by the scheduled deadline, Democrats praised the governor for ultimately being able to check off many items, and Republicans gave him credit for brokering bipartisan agreements on the budget and infrastructure plan. “The governor has asked a lot, and he’s also accomplished a tremendous amount,” House Democratic leader Greg Harris of Chicago said, citing legislation legalizing recreational marijuana, raising the minimum wage and protecting abortions rights. “Any one of the things Gov. Pritzker and the General Assembly have done this year in other years would have been considered monumental.”
* Finke: Democrats control it all, but can’t finish on schedule: Well, Gov. JB Pritzker can claim victory on any number of issues for his first session. We won’t enumerate them because as this is being written, the session still isn’t over. Instead of adjourning on schedule on Friday, the General Assembly expected to work through the weekend to get its work done. It’s not like going into overtime alone is going to be a permanent blot on Pritzker’s record. But he did predict the session would end on time when skeptical reporters started asking if all of those remaining big issues could be addressed quickly.