New Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker pledged Democrats and Republicans would work together to pass a balanced budget this year as he took the oath of office on Monday at a ceremony in Springfield.
“Today, with all the challenges Illinois faces, Democrats and Republicans will work together, and we must begin with our most basic responsibilities,” said Pritzker. “We will propose, debate and pass a balanced budget this year.”
Pritzker took the oath surrounded by his family on a stage cut in the shape of Illinois amid a large crowd at at the Bank of Springfield Center. In his remarks Pritzker highlighted both Illinois’ history as well as more recent struggles, and checked off a list of progressive goals he hopes to accomplish as governor.
“We contend every day with an economy that gives little and takes too much… that allows passion and work ethic to be overwhelmed by student loans, unexpected health emergencies and the rising cost of living,” said Pritzker. We want strong families, but we have yet to embrace more robust policies supporting paid parental leave and affordable child care that will sustain them.”
Pritzker takes the reigns from outgoing governor Bruce Rauner, who conceded to Pritzker on election night in November almost immediately after polls closed. Pritzker won the race with 54.5 percent of the vote to Rauner’s 38.8. Rauner joined Pritzker onstage for the ceremony along with a host of other elected officials, but did not seem as excited as others to be present.
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Earlier on Monday Rauner tweeted it had been a privilege to serve the people of Illinois.
“I am so grateful for the opportunity,” wrote Rauner. “I pray the new administration will build on the challenges we met to conquer the challenges that remain. May our future be bright and may God bless our great state.”
While Pritzker didn’t call out his predecessor by name, he did make a callback to the budget impasse Rauner presided over during his term.
“Be clear about this: I won’t balance the budget on the backs of the starving, the sick, and the suffering,” said Pritzker. “I won’t hollow out the functions of government to achieve an ideological agenda – I won’t make government the enemy and government employees the scapegoats. Responsible fiscal management is a marriage of numbers – and values.”
With Pritzker as governor, Democrats now have near unprecedented power in Illinois, holding large majorities in both the House and Senate in Springfield. The state faces huge fiscal challenges from both the budget impasse and financial mismanagement prior to it that’s wracked up a staggering $7.5 billion backlog of unpaid bills and a $130 pension shortfall.
While it will take time to pass, implement, and see returns on, Pritzker said he would work to pass a graduated income tax in Illinois, saying the current system is “unsustainable.”
“Our regressive tax system, including property taxes and sales taxes, currently has the middle class paying more than double the rate the wealthy pay,” said Pritzker. “That’s not fair, and it also doesn’t pay our bills. Today our state’s fiscal instability affects every single person who lives and works in Illinois…whether you earn millions or the minimum wage.”
Pritzker said critics of a graduated income tax have been lying about the sustainability about the state’s current flat tax, and that the “future of Illinois depends on” passing a progressive one.
Pritzker also said he wants to bring a “renaissance to downstate Illinois,” beginning with high speed broadband internet access for everyone. “Today every new job and every student is dependent upon connectivity, and no part of our state should be left out,” he said. Pritzker said he plans to work with the Department of Labor to help protect workers rights, and that they “deserve a $15 minimum wage.” He also said he plans to work with the state legislature to legalize, tax and regulate the sale of marijuana.
Pritzker closed by thanking Illinoisans for putting their faith in him. “Together let’s go into this new century with enough faith to help each other out of our troubles, with enough foolishness to believe we can make a difference in the world, and with enough kindness to find the courage to change,” he said.