Pritzker: ‘Root out the purveyors of greed and corruption’
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivered his first State of the State address Wednesday, talking tough about ending fraud and graft in a state notorious for corruption and urging support for such contentious ideas as halting the time-honored practice of lawmakers leaving the Legislature to immediately become lobbyists.
Speaking a day after former Democratic Sen. Martin Sandoval pleaded guilty to accepting $250,000 in bribes to protect local cities’ red-light camera enforcement programs and following federal criminal charges against two other Democratic lawmakers, the Democratic governor called lawmakers to “urgent action to restore the public’s trust in our government.”
In addition to a prohibition of the so-called revolving door of lawmakers-turned-lobbyists, Pritzker suggested halting the practice of legislators working as lobbyists to other government bodies and beefing up disclosure of officeholders’ conflicts of interest.
“We must root out the purveyors of greed and corruption — in both parties — whose presence infects the bloodstream of government,” Pritzker said. “It’s no longer enough to sit idle while under-the-table deals, extortion, or bribery persist.”
The details, however, he left to the ethics commission the General Assembly created in November. It’s due to report its recommendations by March 31.
In his first year in office, Pritzker accomplished virtually all his campaign goals with a balanced budget, a multibillion-dollar statewiide construction program, legalized marijuana use, a $15 minimum wage and legislative permission to ask voters in November whether to switch to an income tax structure that hits the wealthier harder.
Despite a tough campaign to win voter approval for the tax switch, Pritzker gave only passing notice to what he calls the “fair tax.” He also said too little, at least for Republicans’ comfort, about the state’s crushing property tax system.
Instead he promoted Illinois and basked in the afterglow of his successful inaugural year, generously sharing credit with Republicans — he said “bipartisan” seven times in a 34-minute speech.
“It was more about the work and the hope and the optimism than about the details,” explained House Majority Leader Greg Harris, a Chicago Democrat who will be listening next month when Pritzker delivers his budget plan.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin shared his GOP colleagues’ chagrin at the attention the governor gave to property taxes and economic growth. But the Western Springs Republican was pleased with Pritzker’s remarks on ethics, particularly, he said, given the details of the Sandoval plea agreement and the filing in federal court this month of a document which suggests a forthcoming guilty plea by former Chicago Democratic Rep. Luis Arroyo on a bribery charge.
“We have lost the confidence of Illinois citizens — we do it year in, year out because of bad behavior,” Durkin said. “We constantly have to ask ourselves whether or not we’re doing enough to police ourselves, clearly not enough.”
Durkin supports a revolving door ban, which in many states involves a “cooling off” period, often of a year or more, between legislating and lobbying. The idea has key Democratic support too.
“I’ve long been troubled by the appearance of someone serving as a member of the General Assembly on Friday and becoming a lobbyist on Monday.” Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park said.
Pritzker would also prohibit sitting legislators from working as paid lobbyists to other government bodies, a situation that gained the spotlight with Arroyo’s arrest. He is accused of trying to bribe a senator to support legislation to legalize video “sweepstakes” games while Arroyo was also lobbying the Chicago City Council on the matter.
Federal prosecutors say the unnamed state senator in the Arroyo case was wearing a recording device as he has cooperated with the government in hopes of leniency in a pending case alleging he filed false income tax returns.
The other Democrat facing legal problems is Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat who has been charged with multiple federal counts of embezzlement for allegedly accepting more than $250,000 in salary and benefits as a Teamsters union organizer while doing little or no work.
Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor.