CHICAGO (CBS) — After taking the oath of office in Springfield, Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker vowed to work with Republicans to pass a balanced budget, and took a veiled shot at his predecessor, Republican Bruce Rauner, stating “our abdication of responsibility must end.”
“Democrats and Republicans will work together, and we must begin with our most basic responsibilities. We will propose, debate, and pass a balanced budget this year,” Pritzker said.
Rauner, by comparison, oversaw a two-year budget stalemate that ended only when a handful of Republican lawmakers joined with Democrats in the House and Senate to approve an income tax hike in 2017, bucking Rauner’s demands for anti-union and pro-business changes in legislation.
Thousands of eager spectators – mostly Democrats – packed the Bank of Springfield Convention Center for Pritzker’s inauguration, enthusiastic about the change they’re hoping he brings to Illinois.
Pritzker acknowledged passing a balanced budget won’t be easy, but said the state must “confront this challenge with honesty.”
Without mentioning Rauner by name, or specifically alluding to the two-year budget standoff, the newly elected governor said the impasse “decimated” healthcare programs and other services that rely on state funding.
“Our obligations as a state outmatch our resources, our fiscal situation right now is challenging, and the solution requires a collective commitment to embracing hard choices,” he said. “I won’t balance the budget on the backs of the starving, the sick, and the suffering. 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.”
Pritzker also laid out his agenda for Illinois, including passage of a graduated income tax; approving a capital program to repair and upgrade roads, bridges, and mass transit; providing high-speed broadband Internet service for all Illinois students; increasing the state’s minimum wage to $15 an hour; and legalizing recreational use of marijuana.
“We want better roads, better schools, better wages – but we vilify anyone who dares suggest a workable path to those things,” he said. “Our abdication of responsibility must end. That starts with leadership that abandons single-minded arrogant notions. No, no, everything is not broken.”
A longtime government watchdog and House Speaker Michael Madigan’s top lieutenant both had more sober evaluations about the challengers Pritzker now faces as he takes the mantle of power from Republican Bruce Rauner.
Ralph Martire, executive director of the Center For Tax & Budget Accountability, said the change in governors means “first and foremost, functional government.”
“That’s something Illinois hasn’t had for years. I mean, even under Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn, there were a lot of battles between the General Assembly and the governor’s office, I think, that were unnecessary and counterproductive,” he said. “I think JB Pritzker has shown, look, he gets he’s got to work with legislators to have an agenda move forward.”
House Majority Leader Greg Harris said Pritzker and state lawmakers have a “pretty large hole” they must fill in the state budget this year.
“I don’t think any one method is going to solve it all. We have to be more efficient, we have to trim back waste, we have to look for things that we’re doing that we can do better, and we’re going to have to frankly look for some more revenue,” he said.
After the inauguration ceremony, the attention shifts to Monday night’s inaugural ball at the Illinois State Fairgrounds, where rumors of a surprise musical guest has piqued everyone’s curiosity. Pritzker representatives said they cannot discuss the musical lineup.