Metro-East News

‘I’m not naive about what it will take.’ New governor focuses on problems facing state

Southern Illinois residents, legislators discuss Gov. Pritzker inauguration

State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, state Sen. Chris Belt, D-Cahokia, and southern Illinois residents discuss what they expect from Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration. Pritzker was sworn in on Monday in Springfield.
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State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, state Sen. Chris Belt, D-Cahokia, and southern Illinois residents discuss what they expect from Gov. J.B. Pritzker's administration. Pritzker was sworn in on Monday in Springfield.

Divided government in Illinois has ended.

With Monday’s swearing-in of J.B. Pritzker as governor and Juliana Stratton as lieutenant governor, Democrats now hold all of the statewide constitutional officers along with the super majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

Pritzker defeated Republican Bruce Rauner in November’s election. Rauner served one term as the state government’s top executive.

Pritzker’s administration now faces the challenge of balancing the state’s budget.

Secretary of State Jesse White, Treasurer Michael Frerichs and Comptroller Susana Mendoza and newly elected Attorney General Kwame Raoul, also were sworn-in for their four-year terms.

Among the invited guests were St. Clair County residents Jessica Montsinger, of Swansea, and Alex Enyart, of Belleville, both of whom are involved in the Democratic Party.

They both want to see marijuana legalization and investment in infrastructure, both of which Pritzker said he would push for during his inaugural address.

Enyart said the next four years will be different than Rauner’s single gubernatorial term.

“I think (Pritzker) has shown strong leadership and I think we’re going to see that from him,” Enyart said. “He seems to be excellent at consensus building and by working and reaching across the aisle at getting stuff done. That has been his track record in Chicago, he just goes and gets it done. I think we’ll see a governor that does that.”

Montsinger said she wants to see work get started right away on the progressive income tax proposal that was pushed by Pritzker during the campaign.

Illinois Gov.-Elect J.B. Pritzker, and his wife, M.K., held an open house on Sunday at the Old State Capitol in Springfield. Pritzker, a Democrat, will succeed Republican Bruce Rauner.

“We’re in such a bad spot that the world really is our oyster, kind of. I know there’s a lot of headwinds, we’ve got a lot of bad stuff, but imagine. We’ve got a veto-proof majority,” Montsinger said.”We’ve got to get that fair income tax passed. … It’s going to be lowering our taxes for most of Illinois citizens, which is outstanding.”

During his inauguration speech, Pritzker seemed to make reference to the last four years, which included a two-year budget impasse where Rauner and the Democratically controlled legislature could not come to an agreement on a state spending plan.

“I’m not naïve about what it will take to do this. All who enter a discussion about our state’s budget and a fair tax system in good faith will be welcomed to the table,” Pritzker said while Rauner sat on stage listening. “But if you lead with partisanship and scare tactics you will be met with considerable political will.”

Pritzker also said he would propose a balanced budget.

Democratic Illinois Governor-Elect J.B. Pritzker discusses gambling expansion, marijuana legalization, a capital bill and gun dealer licensing prior the day before his inauguration. He will succeed Republican Bruce Rauner.

“I won’t balance the budget on the backs of the starving, the sick, and the suffering,” Pritzker said. “I won’t hollow out the functions of government to achieve an ideological agenda. I won’t make government the enemy and government employees the scapegoats. Responsible fiscal management is a marriage of numbers — and values.”

State Rep. LaToya Greenwood, D-East St. Louis, said she looked forward to hearing the governor’s vision for moving the state forward.

“The No. 1 priority is always the people of the state of Illinois I hope that his message is one that unites us and brings all together to move the state forward,” Greenwood said.

Newly elected state Sen. Chris Belt, D-Cahokia, said he is optimistic about the next four years.

“I would hope to see economic development, see medicare, health care for all at exceptional prices, hope to see the minimum wage move beyond $8.25 an hour,” Belt said. “I would hope to see a capital spending bill where we can shore up the infrastructure of Illinois I would hope to see job creation, all these things going forward I would hope to see in the next four years.”

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, formally congratulated Pritzker on his swearing-in.

“I applaud him for stressing the importance of kindness towards others and working together in a bipartisan manner to find solutions,” Schimpf said in a news release. “While I disagree with many of the policy proposals in today’s speech, I still look forward to a respectful, robust policy debate that will reinforce the importance of responsible spending and economic growth in securing a better future for Illinois.”

After Pritzker was sworn in, the Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider would speak out against policies pushed by the Democrats.

“It’s clear that Gov. Pritzker’s agenda will be the same agenda that has dragged our state down for decades — borrow, tax, spend, repeat,” Schneider said. “Over the course of the election and again today, Pritzker promised billions of dollars in new spending, programs, and regulations, all of which our state cannot afford.”

The day before Pritzker was sworn in, Illinois’ senior U.S. senator and fellow Democrat, Dick Durbin, said the new governor and lieutenant governor will face extraordinary challenges.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, discusses the inauguration of J.B. Pritzker, a fellow Democrat. Pritzker defeated Republican Bruce Rauner in the November election.

“It will be a tough assignment, but if he’s honest with the people across this state and sets out a plan that moves us forward, I’m going to help him in every way I can,” Durbin said.

Durbin, who is an East St. Louis native, also said Pritzker understands that areas outside of the state’s northeast corner are important.

“If I could give advice, I’m more than happy to do it. But I noticed in this campaign I didn’t have to give him advice about taking the entire state seriously,” Durbin said. “I’ve seen so many good candidates from Chicago never figured downstate out at all. And from the beginning J.B. Pritzker and Juliana Stratton were down here so frequently that the built up a following, a loyalty which many Chicago-based gubernatorial candidates never do. I didn’t call him to give him that as advice, I didn’t need to. He understood we’ve got to stand together as a state.”

Durbin said he expects to see efforts toward bipartisanship in Springfield and pointed to Pritzker having former Republican Governor Jim Edgar work on the transition and Pritzker meeting with GOP legislators.

“For goodness sakes, can you imagine the former governor walking into a Mike Madigan gathering in the capitol?” Durbin said. “The fact that he is making this a bipartisan effort and I think reassures people across the state he’s really going to do his level best to find bipartisan solutions.”

During Rauner’s single term as governor, the Republican was unable to come to a budget agreement for two years under a the divided government. Ultimately the General Assembly adopted a budget over Rauner’s veto, which included an income tax hike.

Durbin said ultimately Pritzker will still have to work with the General Assembly, which is Democratically controlled.

“The toughest thing really is dealing with the reality of a legislature that is co-equal under our state constitution and he has to find a way to work with them,” Durbin said. “It means cooperation, compromise and I think he can do it. I really believe he can do it.”

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Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.