There can be no disputing that Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the supermajority Democrats in Springfield had a gargantuan spring session.
They approved a budget and a building plan, prepared to try to change the way income is taxed, hiked fees to fund huge building projects, legalized marijuana, affirmed abortion rights and set in motion a massive expansion of gambling.
Lawmakers from both parties also approved some good-government initiatives that deserve Pritzker’s approval.
They allowed for the dissolution of drainage districts and gave voters in McHenry County the power to dissolve township governments, created civics education for middle schoolers, boosted voting rights for those awaiting trial and those being released from prison, added ethics and transparency initiatives to county governments, and improved protections for private- and public-sector workers from discrimination and harassment.
But what about what didn’t get done? There’s plenty in that category, too.
Legislative redistricting reform was ignored this spring, though momentum for it is building across the country and polls repeatedly show Illinoisans want an end to politicians picking their voters and practically guaranteeing election outcomes.
Lawmakers approved a question for the 2020 ballot, asking voters if they want to alter the state constitution to change the way income is taxed because Pritzker pushed it. But John Patterson, spokesman for Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, said the Senate historically holds off on constitutional questions until the second year of the two-year Illinois General Assembly sessions. That means all of us who want to end gerrymandering have until next May 3 to pressure lawmakers to create an independent redistricting commission.
What else was left undone? Legislation stalled that would have made it easier for more people to run for office by allowing digital signature collection and lowering the number of signatures required to run for some Chicago and Cook County-wide offices.
An effort to modernize voter registration was ignored, as were several proposals to move toward voting by mail, which would make it easier for voters and voting administrators who increasingly have trouble finding the manpower to staff precincts at election time.
We also should not forget that lawmakers avoided adding teeth to the office that investigates their own behavior. The Legislative Inspector General needs the power to launch any investigation. Currently, the LIG has to seek permission from a panel of lawmakers before she or he can probe most claims of legislative wrongdoing. We’ve got to fully empower the LIG to operate independently.
Chicago is this state’s biggest, most powerful city and there’s an ethical sea change underway since the inauguration of Mayor Lori Lightfoot. Already, she’s boosting transparency by livestreaming committee meetings, shaking up committee assignments and ending portions of aldermanic privilege, and she is expected to push several more ethical reforms on Wednesday.
Isn’t it time Illinois lawmakers followed Chicago’s lead?
The economic interest statements lawmakers must file — so we know what their potential conflicts of interest are — long have needed an upgrade adding detail, digitization and transparency. More could be done to try public financing of state campaigns, so that candidates who aren’t independently wealthy have a chance at competing.
Lightfoot will try to ban aldermen from holding certain outside jobs that create too much conflict for them. Why not consider the same sorts of restrictions for state lawmakers?
And while there’s no disputing Pritzker and lawmakers got loads done this spring, the way they went about it was the same old, same old that needs to go.
Only a handful of legislators know the details of what’s in the $45 billion building plan they approved. And if you think half of the 177 lawmakers know everything that was in the $40 billion, 1,581-page budget they approved about 12 hours after receiving it, then I’ve got a few broken-down state bridges to sell you. We ought to demand that lawmakers read the budget and construction bills and hold hearings on them before approving them.
Supermajority Democrats and Pritzker literally remade our state’s taxes and fees and building plans. They own a major societal shift with their approval of marijuana and gambling expansion.
They got done what they wanted. How about in the next year they focus on some more of what we need? Equitable elections, efficiencies and ethical, transparent government.
Madeleine Doubek is executive director of CHANGE Illinois, a nonpartisan nonprofit that advocates for political and government reforms.
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