How Pritzker got 'yes' votes from suburban lawmakers who'd opposed his tax plan
Gov. J.B. Pritzker's tail wind seems to be catching suburban Democratic lawmakers despite possible backlash from Republican voters on questions like a graduated income tax.
On two Pritzker campaign promises that don't necessarily play well in suburban swing districts -- changing the income tax structure and raising the minimum wage -- Democrats have played ball.
On a third -- legalizing recreational marijuana -- the Senate voted yes on party lines Wednesday.
Pritzker needed 71 House votes on a constitutional amendment to take his plan to replace the state's flat tax with income brackets to a referendum in November 2020. Initial opposition from Democratic Reps. Sam Yingling of Grayslake and Jonathan Carroll of Northbrook seemed to get his attention.
Before the vote, "the governor personally reached out and said 'it's a priority of mine ... I want to understand why you are in opposition to this,'" Carroll recounted, adding he told Pritzker, "If we're going to fix how we tax, it has to start with local property taxes."
Likewise, Yingling, who said he'd vote against the graduated tax, also received Pritzker time.
"The governor was very proactive and engaging in a number of conversations," said Yingling, who also pushed property tax relief. "The governor realizes this is a problem that hurts middle-class families and has to be addressed head-on."
The result? Unenthused Democrats, including Carroll, Yingling, Rep. Daniel Didech of Buffalo Grove -- who initially told the Daily Herald he opposed a graduated tax -- and Rep. Stephanie Kifowit of Oswego, who took no position, voted for the constitutional amendment Monday, helping to pass it in a 73-44 vote. Pritzker created a Property Tax Relief Task Force that is required to report back by Dec. 31 on how to reduce taxes. Members will include legislators and Pritzker staffers.
The other result? Republicans are preparing to wage war in vulnerable districts come 2020.
The GOP "will be holding all Democratic legislators accountable who voted for the progressive income tax referendum," Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider of Bartlett said.
"If passed, this tax will further Illinois' financial woes by driving more jobs and families from our state," Schneider said of the graduated tax, which Pritzker says will cut income taxes for 97 percent of Illinoisans.
So far Pritzker's proven himself to be more politically adept than his predecessor, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, said Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political studies at the University of Illinois at Springfield. Rauner "had a hard time connecting with people. ... Pritzker comes across as more open and more genuine," he said.
It doesn't hurt to be a billionaire and have a legislative majority. "The governor has held firm on (increasing) the minimum wage, and the same with the graduated income tax. He's made a strong push and shown he has lots of money to sell the idea in the next election," Redfield said.
But can the rookie governor keep selling suburban lawmakers on tough upcoming votes to expand gambling and hike gas taxes to pay for a capital bill? It's also unclear whether the House will decriminalize marijuana, with many dubious local Dems.
"Pritzker has got a tail wind, no question about it," Redfield said, looking to Friday's scheduled end of the legislative session. "But you never know until midnight on the 31st."