By ordinary measures, Gov. JB Pritzker had a successful first term. But what now?
In 2022, he ran a reelection campaign that was short on specifics about Illinois’ future and long on the shortcomings of his Republican opponent. So it will be revealing to hear how he and his Democratic legislative super-majority plan to govern through 2026.
The shaky economy and Illinois’ long-standing financial problems foreshadow difficult times.
Perhaps that’s why Pritzker recently hinted that he’ll devote considerable attention toward the state’s long-term financial woes, much of which stem from public pension systems that are $140 billion underfunded.
That’s fine as far as it goes. But his professed interest in righting the financial ship conflicts with another priority he shares with legislative Democrats, that of large increases in social spending.
Pritzker cannot have one without the other unless the state continues to enjoy large, unanticipated revenue increases, mostly from state income and sales taxes.
“If we continue to run surpluses, then surpluses no longer become an extraordinary item,” he said, “Surpluses become a regular part of the budget that allows you either to invest in education or to cut taxes or to invest in maintaining human services in Illinois.”
Hope, however, is not a plan. It’s a feeling.
Illinois has enjoyed surprisingly large un-forecast revenue gains in 2022, thanks to a state economy recovering from the coronavirus nightmare and many billions of federal dollars Congress sent to the states.
But state financial experts have warned the federal money is running out. They have further stated they are not confident revenue gains they failed to predict will continue.
Everyone will just have to wait and see, and that will make it complicated for Pritzker and his legislative cohorts to pursue goals that include free college tuition for children of low-income families, expanded early childhood education, and increases in child care, mental health and substance-abuse programs.
Further complicating the picture is that much of what Pritzker does will be judged in the context of his obvious interest in the 2024 Democratic presidential nomination.
President Biden has insisted he’ll run for re-election. He shows the attitude of a fighter, but Biden can’t fight the realities of advancing age that already have wreaked an obvious toll on him.
As a consequence, Pritzker cannot help but be distracted by his interest in moving from Chicago to Washington, D.C.
Those are the known unknowns, and they represent problems galore. But what of the unknown unknowns. Who imagined the coronavirus pandemic that wrecked so many lives and caused so much economic havoc?
Is another disaster just around the corner? More inflation? A recession?
Or, perhaps, as Pritzker hopes, Illinois will continue on its upward trajectory.
Pritzker will have to be ready for either eventuality as well as be ready to share his thoughts about them at his inauguration.