What will new Gov. J.B. Pritzker do for you? We asked that question of random Illinois Valley residents and the first answer given was among the most cited: He’s going to raise our taxes.
Pritzker was sworn in today as the state’s 43rd governor after he won 55 percent of the popular vote in the Nov. 6 election and beat incumbent Republican Bruce Rauner by 700,000 votes.
Despite the margin of victory, those interviewed Monday by the NewsTribune were at best guarded about what the new governor will accomplish, mindful of the state’s ongoing budget woes.
“I’m concerned he’s going to raise the income tax but not do anything about the pension system,” said Frank Strell of La Salle, a retired teacher. “Hopefully, the money will not go to other funding.”
Those are not isolated sentiments because neither governors from both parties have been able to right the state’s surging deficit in recent years. Now comes Pritzker, the 53-year-old heir to the Hyatt hotel chain, pledging to revise the state income tax structure to make wealthy taxpayers pay a greater share.
The Associated Press reported Monday that Pritzker likely will move quickly in the just-begun session of the General Assembly to legalize the recreational use of marijuana and to compile a long-desired capital construction plan to fix roads, bridges and schools.
He also wants to raise the minimum wage. Democrats previously approved a phased-in approach that would have increased the wage to $15 by 2022, but Rauner vetoed it.
Ismet Puralku of La Salle, owner of a local restaurant, said he voted for Rauner and anticipated few if any positive developments from a Pritzker governship.
“The marijuana is going to be legal and that’s bad,” Puralku said. “The drug users are going to be stoned 24 hours a day.”
Legalizing marijuana was, in fact, among the more divisive campaign issues between Pritzker and Rauner. Some interviewed welcomed legalization, insofar as it could generate badly-needed revenue.
“I don’t smoke, but I think it’s a better way to raise money for the state,” said Noah Hancock, a student at Illinois Valley Community College, noting he wants to see the money put toward infrastructure, higher education and prison reform.
Others interviewed expressed more hope that Pritzker would address infrastructure and education, even if the money is tight in Springfield.
“Hopefully, the roads will get better,” said Dan Simpson of Oglesby, who works for a paving company. “He’s a Democrat and he wants to put people to work.”
Pritzker has also pledged to “invest in higher education” and Cyndi Freeman of Peru, a college student, said she expects that pledge to translate into financial assistance.
“I want him to expand student loans,” Freeman said, “and more scholarships would be great.”
Lydia Walker, IVCC student, said she thinks there should be a separate budget set aside for the students of Illinois.
“A lot of students do not get money from their parents, so they’re working minimum wage jobs to pay for school,” Walker said.
Beyond funding, one IVCC student said she supports stricter regulations on e-cigarettes.
“I would be good with that because vaping is just as bad as smoking,” said Erin Haydon.
Alyssa Schiffgens, IVCC nursing student, said she hopes the governor allocates more money to child care because she would like to have more childcare options.
“I would be pumped if there were day care for people working night shifts,” Schiffgens said. “Day cares are only open 6 a.m.-6 p.m.”
As a nurse, she will work 12-hour shifts beginning either at 7 p.m. or 7 a.m. She said it would help a lot of people if longer day care hours were available.
As for raising the minimum wage, Walker thinks the higher wages would be helpful, but they won’t help solve the state’s debt problem.
“We need to bring business back in to Illinois. Jobs will bring people back, which will bring more money back into the state,” Walker said.
Pritzker’s success with such projects remains to be seen, but he won’t be able to assign blame to an obstinate GOP. Rather, Pritzker enters office with near-record majorities in both the House and Senate. In the past 140 years, the 74-44 Democratic House majority is second only to the party’s strength in 1965-67 and the Senate’s 40 Democrats to 19 Republicans matches the 2013-15 count and, as a percentage, falls behind only the Democrats’ 1935-37 majority.
Nonetheless, Pritzker faces fiscal problems resulting from the budget impasse and even before, including overdue bills totaling $7.5 billion and a haunting, $130 billion shortfall in what the state owes to its pension plans.