Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker has taken the prospect of an immediate income tax hike off the table, telling the Sun-Times that he won’t pursue an “artificial” progressive income tax during the coming spring legislative session.
Pritzker floated the idea as a possible way to impose an immediate graduated income tax, which the Illinois Constitution forbids. He said it “could” be done by using exemptions and tax credits for the working poor and the middle class to shield them from higher income tax rates. But he hasn’t really talked about the idea since April, and he never said he was fully committed to doing it. Not to mention that an immediate tax hike — even if it is only on upper-income earners — could mar and complicate his first months in office and give groups like the Illinois Policy Institute a reason to stoke up public opposition against him.
When I asked Pritzker what he feared most about taking the reins, Pritzker said he didn’t approach the task with fear. Instead, he said he wanted to develop ways of dealing with the “real challenges” ahead.
“But we can’t do it in a hyper-partisan fashion,” Pritzker stressed, adding that was one of the reasons he’d called both Republican legislative leaders on election night. He said he made it clear he wanted to work with both of them.
“Good ideas can come from anywhere, including Republicans,” the governor-elect said. “I think we have a real opportunity to get some things done if we get rid of the partisan rancor and talk across the aisle.”
While he didn’t mention it, attempting to raise income taxes on upper-income earners right out of the gate would probably not help bring Republicans to the table. Just the opposite. A capital bill, however, would go a long way toward brightening Statehouse spirits, and Pritzker has pledged to pass one.
I asked Pritzker if he will appoint any Republicans to run state agencies. He said no decisions have been made on available positions, “but I will for sure have people from both parties serving in the administration.”
Former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar is co-chairing Pritzker’s transition committee. Edgar said nice things about Pritzker during the campaign and could be an important ally in the coming months because several legislators in both parties are graduates of his renowned fellowship program and still maintain close and respectful ties to him.
“It’s extraordinarily important that we have a dialogue, even when we disagree significantly,” Pritzker said of what he’d learned from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s dealings with both parties in the General Assembly. “That dialogue shouldn’t end,” he said. “There’s not gonna be any, you know, holding hostage.”
Asked about his first legislative priority in January, Pritzker pointed to his campaign promise of focusing on things that will “lift up the standard of living” for Illinoisans by “putting dollars back in their pockets.”
Pritzker said that would include his plan to allow people who don’t currently qualify for Medicaid to buy in to the program and then use it as their primary health insurance (which, as proposed, wouldn’t cost the government any money). Increasing MAP grants for college students was another possibility, as well as helping former college students refinance their education loans, which, he said, “would put hundreds of thousands of dollars back on the table for people.” He told other reporters he wants to increase the minimum wage.
I asked Pritzker if he was aware that over the years, the state government had been “hollowed out.” Expenditures to actually operate the government and implement programs have been diverted to pay constantly rising pension and health care costs, as well as for mandated wage hikes. Lots and lots of existing jobs aren’t filled when they become vacant because of this issue. And that has caused real problems in some crucial state agencies.
While Pritzker stressed that he still had a lot to learn, he said he was “quite well aware that there are many positions that haven’t been filled, that there are many issues that have just been sitting in a folder or file somewhere that haven’t been addressed, and some of them are very public and on the front pages, but some of them are hidden and back of the house.”
When asked to complete this sentence: “By May 31st of 2019, ‘x’ will be approved, I guarantee it,” Pritzker laughed and said, “We will have a budget.” Let’s all hope House Speaker Michael Madigan doesn’t make him eat those words.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.