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State

Gov. Pritzker promises progressive push ahead in Illinois

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference last week after signing an order to make Illinois a member of the U.S. Climate Alliance.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference last week after signing an order to make Illinois a member of the U.S. Climate Alliance.

SPRINGFIELD – Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker comes into office with supermajorities in both chambers of the 101st General Assembly, which begins in earnest Tuesday.

Pritzker promises to deliver on a progressive legislative agenda that stands in stark contrast with that of his Republican predecessor, former Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Meanwhile, legislative leaders from both parties said they look forward to a new era in state government and a departure from the partisan acrimony that characterized the past four years, which led to a historic two-year budget stalemate.

Illinois’ new governor said the legalization, regulation and taxation of recreational cannabis will be one of his first majority legislative efforts, to be accompanied by criminal justice reforms for convicted marijuana offenders in the state. Coupled with an expansion of gambling and the possibility of legalized sports gambling, these initiatives could become new sources of revenue.

Another could be an overhaul of the state’s income tax structure. Although Pritzker never publicly has given specifics for his plan, he has indicated a longer-term policy goal to move Illinois to a graduated income tax rate, which goes up as income grows.

The governor has no formal role in this process. Instead, it would require an amendment to the state Constitution. For that to be successful, three-fifths of lawmakers from both chambers – 36 in the Senate and 71 in the House – would have to place the measure on a ballot. It then would need to gain the approval of 60 percent of voters.

Pritzker noted this likely would not happen until the 2020 presidential election.

Illinois’ railways, roads, bridges, freshwater arteries and other transportation infrastructure also will be rehabilitated, the governor said, if his plans for a capital bill are successful. He additionally noted the need to overhaul the state’s information systems, and spoke of delivering high-speed broadband internet coverage to “everyone, in every corner of Illinois” in his inaugural address.

In the same speech to voters, Pritzker said “our obligations as a state outmatch our resources.”

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