Editorial | Heading into the home stretch

Editorial | Heading into the home stretch

For Illinois lawmakers, there's a lot to do in a relatively short time.

With just 12 days remaining before the May 31 legislative adjournment, much of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's ambitious legislative agenda remains unfulfilled.

That's led to uncomfortable speculation in some quarters that Pritzker doesn't have the clout his supporters expected, as well as anonymous quotes from legislators questioning the rookie governor's political skills.

It's certainly true that the clock is running, but the gloom-and-doom rhetoric is premature, to say the least.

For starters, legislative leaders routinely wait until the final days — sometimes final hours — of the ,session to pass major bills. After all, it's easier for them to pass controversial and complicated bills at the last minute, when only a few people know what's really in them.

But Pritzker has a bigger ace in the hole than just the state's curious and sometimes self-destructive practice of waiting until the last minute.

It's his partisan affiliation. He's a Democratic governor, and both the House and Senate are under supermajority Democratic control.

Republicans, by virtue of the small numbers, have virtually no influence on the legislative process. So partisan opposition is weak.

If the Democrats fail to pass the Pritzker agenda, it will be the result of their collective choice.

The biggest item left undone is Pritzker's proposal to put a progressive-income-tax amendment on the November 2020 ballot. The Senate already has used its supermajority to approve the ballot measure, and the House is now considering the matter.

The good news for Pritzker is that, while the House may act, it's not necessary for it to act now to put the measure on the ballot. It can wait until later in the year or even next year to approve the proposal.

The timing, of course, will be up to Democratic Speaker Michael Madigan. If he wants to pass it now, he'll get the Democratic votes he needs.

Then there's Pritzker's sports-betting proposal. He wants a clean bill, while some other legislators want more casinos, higher limits on video gambling and slot machines at racetracks.

Madigan has indicated he'd back a new casino or two for Chicago. It could turn into a feeding frenzy. Whatever legislators pass, if anything, Pritzker can be expected to sign for one simple reason — he's ravenous for more revenue to spend on expanded social programs.

The three remaining biggies are legislation permitting recreational use of marijuana, a capital spending bill that will include a substantial gasoline-tax increase and a package of Pritzker-proposed tax hikes on items like plastic bags, cigarettes and video gambling.

It's hard to imagine Pritzker won't get a capital bill because legislators love the pork fests this kind of legislation usually includes.

He also wants the marijuana bill because he wants the revenue he expects it to generate. But in an age of decriminalization, legalizing recreational use of marijuana has drawn considerable opposition, and rightly so. The wisdom of that proposal is certainly open to question, so why take the risk?

As for Pritzker's package of tax hikes, legislators love to nickle and dime taxpayers and are reluctant to do so only when they fear pushback. The recent unexpected boost in state income-tax revenues makes it unnecessary for them to take that risk.

The biggest question surrounding the Legislature's final days, as it often does, involves Madigan. It's not just what he'll do, it's what he'll permit the House to do. Since he and Pritzker both play for the same team, it would be a big surprise if they can't work things out.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
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