Pritzker condemns corruption, celebrates economic gains

Pritzker’s address featured a hearty condemnation of corruption delivered to Illinois lawmakers. Pictured: Governor J.B. Pritzker delivers the State of the State Address in Springfield, Ill. (Photo Credit: Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP).

By Jackson Elliott
Medill Reports

Protecting corruption in Illinois government is “no longer acceptable,” Governor J.B. Pritzker said in his 2020 State of the State address to the Illinois legislature last Wednesday.

His remarks followed the guilty plea of former State Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) on Tuesday for corruption charges.

Lawmakers responded to his statement with applause that rapidly escalated into a standing ovation.

“It’s no longer enough to sit idle while under-the-table deals, extortion, or bribery persist,” the governor said.

To stop corruption, the governor said it was time to  end the practice of legislators becoming lobbyists but did not provide details on how he would do so.  He also said he hired people “who were diverse in gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, geography and life experience” instead of hiring “the same old faces that get jobs year in and year out.”

Some critics, however, accused the governor of hypocrisy. In 2015, Pritzker removed all the toilets from his second mansion, reclassifying it as an “uninhabitable structure” and receiving $330,000 in property tax breaks.

“The governor owned a mansion that he didn’t pay taxes on because he took all the toilets out,” Illinois business owner Dan Musick said. “He’s blowing smoke. … I don’t think he has a moral leg to stand on.”

Still, Musick said he appreciated the governor’s plan to cut property taxes by consolidating city pensions for police and firefighters. He said lower property taxes could save him a few thousand dollars each year.

“I think that’s a great thing if they can do that,” Musick said.

In his speech, the governor also celebrated last year’s economic successes. Illinois now has 6.2 million jobs, an unemployment rate lower than its Midwestern peers and growth in every major region of the state, Pritzker said. He also said those who say Illinois is heading toward a disaster are working to make things worse.

But Illinois Policy Institute research analyst Bryce Hill said that Pritzker’s numbers were inaccurate. Unemployment only remains low because many Illinoisans have stopped looking for jobs or left the state, he said, adding that Illinois lags behind the rest of the nation and surrounding states in job creation.

“If our workforce would have grown at the national average, our unemployment rate would actually be 4.4%, which would be up from a year ago,” Hill said.

He also refuted Pritzker’s claim that the entire state was growing economically. The towns of Davenport, Peoria, Moline all experienced employment decline over the last year, and the state lost over a hundred thousand residents who moved out, Hill said.

Pritzker’s bipartisan Rebuild Illinois bill will repair Illinois roads and bridges while creating 500,000 jobs will improve the state’s infrastructure and help it to grow economically, the governor said in his speech.

“Rebuild Illinois will transform our infrastructure even as we create a lot more opportunities for thousands of young people with steady work that will help make sure that our economy works for everyone,” Pritzker said.

He also said he would undo discrimination, reform the criminal justice system and implement higher income taxes on people who earned more money.

“It’s time for us to recommit ourselves to the hard work of bringing prosperity and opportunity to all communities in Illinois through a fairer tax system,” he said.

Illinois Manufacturers’ Association president and CEO Mark Denzler said in a press release that although Pritzker’s infrastructure bill will move the state forward, “moving to a graduated income tax and hiking energy costs on businesses that create jobs and drive our economy is the wrong approach.”

Photo at top: Pritzker’s address featured a hearty condemnation of corruption delivered to Illinois lawmakers. Pictured: Governor J.B. Pritzker delivers the State of the State Address in Springfield. (Photo Credit: Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP).