Jim Broadway

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Illinois School News Service

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Volume 25, Number 38, June 3, 2019

Pritzker's words and actions echo Burnham's

By Jim Broadway, Publisher, Illinois School News Service

Daniel Hudson Burnham (1846-1912), the prolific and visionary architect who designed and oversaw construction of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and transformed Chicago (which he saw as "Paris on the prairie") into the stunning lakeside city it remains to this day, is famously quoted as saying*:

"Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and our grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty."

[*NOTE: If you don't have a free account at Archive.org, the non-profit Internet Archive that has a library of 20 million books and millions of audio and video files, you should get one. You can do that by starting at this page.]

Now fast-forward to November 6, 2018, for the opening line of veteran Associated Press political reporter John O'Connor's account of the Illinois gubernatorial election outcome:

"Democrat J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire who campaigned on moving Illinois past the political bitterness of the past four years, was elected governor Tuesday over Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, declaring, 'We make no small plans.'" Pritzker "invoked the theme of a state rising above hardship and long odds," O'Connor wrote; he quoted Pritzker: "That is Illinois, full of light that comes from the people who endure and overcome struggle.... That light brought triumph tonight."

The "no small plans" declaration echoed again over the weekend as the Illinois General Assembly went into overtime to enact - mostly by large bipartisan vote totals - almost every policy proposal that Pritzker brought with him to the Capitol. The state budget for FY 2020 exceeds $40 billion. The revenue sources - sports betting, casino expansion, gasoline tax was doubled, recreational marijuana was legalized to be taxed, myriad fees raised - proliferated.

An infrastructure plan, capital construction described as both "vertical" (buildings for state, municipal, university, school and other public purposes) and "horizontal" (state highways, county, township and municipal roadways, mass transit," was enacted at a total projected (mostly bonded) cost of about $41 billion.

Not all votes on Pritzker priorities were bipartisan, of course. Not a single Republican supported his proposal to let voters decide next year if Illinois should keep its flat-rate income tax system or go to a graduated-rate structure, like most states and the federal government. The marijuana legalization vote was also polarizing - but the division was not of Democrats from Republicans but rather of differences among factions within the partisan caucuses.

Generally, a spirit of unity largely prevailed. Pritzker's consistent engagement with the process and the super-majority Democrats' welcoming of Republicans in the preceding months of (mostly closed-door) meetings seemed to have a magical effect on the floor comments in the final weekend of a momentous session.

The contrast for all who watch this process for a living was startling. Here were Democrats who were frustrated at every turn by former Gov. Bruce Rauner's insistence on his "Turnaround Illinois" plan as a prerequisite for any policy negotiation, and Republicans who stood should-to-shoulder with Rauner until they just couldn't take it anymore, thanking each other and complimenting the "hard work" done on the "other side of the aisle" that led to "historic" achievements.

The term "compromise" was bandied about, but it was genuine. Pritzker did not get everything he had wanted. He had made it clear, repeatedly, for example, that the voucher-like tuition tax credit provision that Republicans forced into the 2017 school funding bill should be repealed this year. But leaving it in the law motivated several Republicans to support other provisions they would usually reject. Why is that important?

While the Democratic majorities in both the House and the Senate are sufficient to pass any legislation they might wish (as the GOP forced them to do on the graduated tax rate resolution), an unyielding domination by any political party leads to instability in government, to future gridlock, to a weaker democracy.

Even without the rhetorical displays of mutual respect that legislators of the opposing parties demonstrated, the fact that both parties crafted major bills together was obvious. There was no GOP talking point, for example, complaining that the 1,500-page budget bill surfaced just a day before the House voted on it.

Speaking of the FY 2020 budget, Pritzker got most - but not all - of what he wanted. He had wanted $593.7 million for the Early Childhood Education line in the budget of the Illinois State Board of Education. That would have been a $100 million increase in that line, compared with the current fiscal year.

The program did well - but not quite that well (see page 155) - in SB 262, the 1,581-page bill appropriating $40 billion or so to fund virtually all agencies, programs and services of the state for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Early childhood programs will get $543.7 million, for a not-too-shabby $50 million hike.

In other changes: Pritzker proposed $262.9 million for regular/vocational transportation reimbursement, and that was raised to $289.2 in SB 262; his $3.58 million for the Phillip J. Rock Center and School was raised to $3.778 million; his $15 million for after-school programs was raised to $20 million; his $2 million for the Southwest Organizing Project was raised to $3.5 million; his $378,000 for district consolidation costs was reduced to $218,000; his National Board Certification funding was raised from $1 million to $1.5 million in SB 262; Teach for America was bumped a bit to $1 million even.

It is important to know that the differences between Pritzker's recommendations in February and the budget finalized by a Senate concurrence vote Sunday night do not necessarily reflect disagreements between the 2nd and 3rd floors at the Capitol. By all accounts, Pritzker and Deputy Governor Christian Mitchell (a respected member of the House until the start of this year) were consistently "engaged" with the legislative process all spring.

What about the 3% cap on educators' salaries that was enacted last year. ISNS readers will be pleased to learn that, in contrast with what appeared most likely, that action was repealed and the former cap of 6% was restored in the Budget Implementation (BIMP) bill, SB 1814, finalized in the Senate 52-6 on Sunday.

It will take some time to unravel the huge and complex policy changes enacted by the legislators through Sunday night. The next ISNS issue is tentatively scheduled to be published for Wednesday morning. If you have a question about any specific legislative issue, use the contact link below to ask about it.

My plan at this time is to do another wrap-up issue for Friday morning, and then take a couple of weeks off to catch up on some administrative chores (yes, that means invoices) and perhaps visit with my children. Somewhat later, I'll get around to other pending commitments, but at a more relaxed pace.

This is a rare treat, this 2020 policy process. The Blagojevich, Quinn and Rauner administrations were uncertain. Would the budget process continue into the summer? Would there even be a budget? How will the political caucuses ever get along? Political peace and summertime certainty. I could get used to this.

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