The question we think Illinois voters should ask themselves is this: Where we do go from here?
For the last four years, Gov. Bruce Rauner has been locked in mortal combat with House Speaker Mike Madigan. The result: epic dysfunction that led to the state failing to produce a budget for two years.
When he was elected, Rauner pledged to break the way that Illinois had been governed. He took on some well-meaning reform efforts, such as trying to change the state’s expensive worker’s compensation system. But he also made it his mission to kneecap the state’s labor unions.
The Janus Supreme Court decision that damages the ability of unions to raise money was a win for him, but he's largely been unsuccessful on that front.
The state's budget stalemate ended a year ago, but we’re still hearing about the damage.
JB Pritzker offers an alternative.
He clearly sees that raising revenues will be a key contributor to solving the state’s problems. He has promised that a graduated income tax he proposes -- and that would require amending the constitution -- would not hurt the middle class, that it would draw from the wealthy.
There is plenty of skepticism about that, amplified by Pritzker’s stubborn refusal to give details of his plan.
We understand the politics of such a move, but it’s unfair to voters. Pritzker should have been more clear. Having said that, though, we don’t see that a progressive tax system would be the death knell that critics proclaim.
Iowa and a lot of other states have had such a system for years. And if raising more from upper income Illinoisans who benefit from the existing flat tax can help to buy down property taxes then that would be a boon to areas like the Illinois Quad-Cities.
The key, of course, is to follow through – just not shovel new money into an open maw that will spend it on pet projects for state lawmakers and lobbyists.
We are open-eyed about this risk. But the imbalance in real estate taxes between our two states is surely a major reason growth has largely been confined to the Iowa side of the river. We don’t think that helps any of us, and something has to be done.
We should also note that Pritzker has raised the idea of bringing in more money to state coffers by expanding gambling and legalizing marijuana. Achieving either, or both, is probably going to be more difficult than imagined.
Steering clear of the pork barrel also will be a necessity if Pritzker’s idea for fixing the ailing state pension system – essentially, putting more money in up front -- is to work.
Throughout this campaign, we have listened to both Rauner and Pritzker talk about how to ignite Illinois’ economy. Here in the Quad-Cities, we know full well that the post-recession recovery hasn’t fully landed here. The labor market started to improve in Rock Island County this year, but it has been a long time coming.
Pritzker has a record of job creation. The 1871 small-business incubator in Chicago he founded is credited with creating thousands of jobs, and it’s that kind of success we need here.
Unfortunately, we have not seen results from the governor’s approach to the economy. To his credit, he also recognizes the damage high property taxes have done. But, yet, they remain.
We think it’s worth seeing if Pritzker’s approach will work. We also are interested in seeing how he deals with Madigan.
We’re hopeful, especially when it comes to political reforms, he’ll be aggressive. Pritzker told us he would not sign a remap of legislative boundaries that is “unfair.” Another redistricting will occur in the next few years. Pritzker's promise leaves some wiggle room, but Illinoisans have plenty of experience with what “unfair” maps look like. We'll know it when we see it.
As we noted earlier, we wish Pritzker had been more forthcoming about his income tax plan. We also are disappointed with how he has approached the scandal over the removal of toilets from his house, earning him a much lower property tax bill. Pritzker is paying back $330,000, but the whole episode has left many Illinoisans rightly disgusted.
So, we end where we began. Where does Illinois go next? We don’t think the answer is where we’ve been before.
The Times endorses JB Pritzker.