J.B. 2.0: Pritzker’s second State of the State speech to deal with education, corruption — and other leftover problems

What exactly Gov. Pritzker will do about rooting out that corruption isn’t yet clear, although he’s expressed interest in banning lawmakers from lobbying other levels of government.

SHARE J.B. 2.0: Pritzker’s second State of the State speech to deal with education, corruption — and other leftover problems
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference in December. File Photo

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a news conference in December. File Photo

Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

SPRINGFIELD — After a first year marked by major legislative victories, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday plans to look ahead to his second year in office with a State of the State address that will focus in part on “rooting out corruption” and rebuilding education.

The Democratic governor also has a laundry list of state problems to focus on, including pension reform, property taxes — and perhaps, a burgeoning red-light camera scandal. Pritzker will also have to deal with Chicago’s needs, which include finally figuring out the tax structure that will get the city a casino, and much needed revenue, as well as potential trailer measures to clarify marijuana legalization issues in the city.

What exactly Pritzker will do about rooting out that corruption isn’t yet clear, although he’s expressed interest in banning lawmakers from lobbying other levels of government. He’s also cheered on the efforts of an ethics commission, although such panels don’t always provide workable solutions and generally take a long time when they do spit out results.

Pritzker’s speech comes a day after former state Sen. Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to bribery and tax charges. In all, Sandoval took about $250,000 in bribes from a red-light camera company, identified in court as SafeSpeed, and others, according to a plea agreement he entered into in federal court in Chicago.

Former state Sen. Martin Sandoval leaving federal court Jan. 28, 2020, after pleading guilty to bribery and tax charges.

Martin Sandoval leaving U.S. District Court on Tuesday after pleading guilty to bribery and tax charges.

Tyler LaRiviere / Sun-Times file

And the widespread federal political corruption investigation is definitely on the minds of Illinois residents.

While the speech was still being developed on Tuesday, the governor’s office said Pritzker is expected to talk about his first year accomplishments and work to build on those successes – including investing in early childhood education, K-12 and higher education.

The governor’s office said “rooting out corruption is an important priority, and he will work to restore faith in government and comprehensive ethics reform.”

Looking ahead to the address, House Majority Leader Greg Harris, D-Chicago, said ethics reforms have to be a top priority for Democrats, “to begin to close loopholes that have been uncovered in the federal investigations.”

“I think another balanced budget that keeps us on the path to greater fiscal stability, especially for the long run, is a good thing,” Harris said. “And I think renewable energy and climate are going to be important to a lot of folks.”

House Majority Leader Greg Harris in 2017.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris speaks at the state Capitol in 2017. File Photo.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

Harris acknowledged that Pritzker’s second-year budget may be a bit more difficult than his first. Last year, the state had some great luck, in the form of an unexpected $1 billion revenue windfall. And Democratic legislators — with both the House and the Senate in a super-majority — were anxious to give the governor big first-year wins.

“There’s going to be, I think, some tough choices. It’s going to be a tough year,” Harris said. “But we’ll see in February, the proposal the governor puts forward in his budget, and then we’ll go from there.”

With Sandoval’s guilty plea, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, on Tuesday outlined a package of reforms to change “the culture of corruption” in Illinois. Durkin and other House Republicans have been outspoken about addressing the corruption scandal — although many of their proposals have fallen upon deaf ears.

“Illinois still needs significant reforms to address not only our fiscal issues but the culture of corruption that has invaded government at all levels in Illinois — and we got the first taste of it today,” Durkin said, alluding to Sandoval’s guilty plea.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, speaks with the media last May. File Photo.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, speaks with the media last May. File Photo.

Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register via AP

Speaking with reporters on the first day of the legislative session, Durkin said he hoped to hear Pritzker mention support for ethics reform, for a “fair map” to end gerrymandering and a plan to reduce Illinois’ notoriously high property taxes.

Durkin said he spoke with Pritzker twice since the end of the fall veto session in November saying the governor told him he supported some of the Republican ideas for ethics reform.

One proposed bill would prohibit lawmakers from working as lobbyists while they hold elected office, expand the economic interest information that legislators are required to disclose and also establish a grace period between when a lawmaker can become a lobbyist after leaving office.

During last year’s veto session, lawmakers passed a measure that expanded information lobbyists must disclose. It also updated the Illinois Secretary of State’s lobbyist database to include information about clients and campaign contributions.

Durkin also called for property tax reform and a “fair map,” for the state’s Senate and House districts, saying the latter being the key to reforming government in Illinois, as the state will redraw its legislative districts after the 2020 census.

“To me, that’s the probably the most important way we can clean up corruption and the culture that has created just this horrible situation,” Durkin said.

Pritzker will deliver his budget address on Feb. 19.

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