Gov. J.B. Pritzker highlighted bipartisan accomplishments Wednesday and focused on future goals in his first State of the State address.
“The last year has shown what we can do when we roll up our sleeves and work together to restore stability to our state,” the Democratic governor told assembled senators, representatives, fellow constitutional officers and guests.
Pritzker’s legislative victories included timely passage of a state budget that improved the state’s credit rating, a reminder that generated applause and cheers from lawmakers. The governor also highlighted Illinois’ lower unemployment rate and bipartisan passage of an infrastructure bill.
House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, appreciated the governor’s emphasis on the bipartisanship nature of his successes and looks for that to continue. “I believe him,” Durkin said of Pritzker’s call for bipartisanship. “I’m prepared to work with him on ethics reform.”
Addressing ethics reform, the governor urged lawmakers to “root out” greed and corruption and pass “real, lasting ethics reform. … Honest members of the General Assembly from both sides of the aisle have some good ideas, and so do I.”
New Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, agreed on the urgency to tackle ethics reform, stating he heard that repeatedly from his caucus members. “There is a real need to tackle ethics reform directly and quickly,” Harmon said.
Pritzker presented an ambitious to-do list for this legislative session, but offered few details of how that would be accomplished. He listed a “fairer tax system, job creation, education and job training programs, childcare and preschool and … high-speed internet in all corners of our state.”
The governor also spoke about the need to address property taxes. “It’s time to put the best ideas to work from both sides of the aisle,” Pritzker said.
Sens. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia, and Jil Tracy, R-Quincy, agreed on a need to address property tax issues. “I hear about it day-in, day-out. We need to put these things into action,” Anderson said.
“Illinois has much more work to do on property tax relief. This is a major problem,” Tracy added. “We have to put policies in place to encourage business growth and economic development in Illinois. That will give us big relief on property taxes.”
“I’m glad property tax reform is a priority,” Durkin said. “This is the year to get property tax (relief) done for the citizens of Illinois.”
Senate Agriculture and Conservation Committee Chairman Scott Bennett, D-Champaign, was pleased the governor mentioned investing in a robust agricultural sector. “By investing in the state’s largest industry — agriculture — we can help the whole state,” Bennett said.
Pritzker’s 2020 agenda includes making college more affordable. “This fall, more than half of the families in our state will be eligible for free tuition at the University of Illinois,” the governor said.
Bennett, whose district includes the U of I, said he wants to join the governor’s efforts on college affordability “to bring students into the state and keep our students here.”
Lawmakers punctuated Pritzker’s speech with applause, laughter and several standing ovations. Two guests in the gallery, one from Marion and another from Peoria, received warm applause. Those seated on the House floor felt the congeniality.
Bennett, a Democrat, said he noticed a “spirit of optimism.”
“I sat on the Republican side next to my representative, and there wasn’t the divisiveness feeling,” Bennett recalled. “We have Democrats and Republicans who say, ‘We may not agree with all the points we hear today, but we’re excited (about) the state we’re all proud to call home, and hopefully our children will want to call it home as well.’”