BLOOMINGTON — Bloomington-Normal's state legislators are optimistic about the new administration moving into Springfield this week — as long as they see a more bipartisan J.B. Pritzker than they saw on the campaign trail.
"A private perception conveyed to me by lots of people, folks who know (Gov.-elect) Pritzker, says he wants to be bipartisan and wants Republicans to have a seat at the table," said State Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican. "But in his campaign he very much appealed to a liberal agenda ... that I think is outside the mainstream of Illinoisans.
"So I don't know what's real. Was the campaign just rhetoric or not?"
Barickman, State Sen. Bill Brady and State Rep. Dan Brady, all Bloomington Republicans, told The Pantagraph they're encouraged by their interactions so far with Pritzker, a Chicago Democrat being sworn in on Monday, but expect to act as a check on his progressive proposals regardless.
That will be a challenge with Republicans now a superminority in both legislative chambers — meaning Democratic lawmakers have enough power to enact any legislation they want, even if Pritzker and Republicans disagree.
Bill Brady, who's already working closely with Pritzker as senate minority leader, said he's confident Republicans will still have input, including on his highest priority: repairing the state's shaky financial future.
"We need to see from Pritzker leadership and the portrayal of stability," said Barickman, adding both were lacking under departing Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner. "There's a lot of long-term planning that our state needs to move through what has been a very challenging period in state government."
"Gov. Pritzker says that is his No. 1 goal. I believe it is," said Bill Brady. "If we're going to create jobs and bring job creators here, we need to focus on stability."
He said a good first step would be a bipartisan program to improve the state's infrastructure that decayed further during a two-year budget impasse under Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan.
"There's not anybody in Springfield who wouldn't tell you we need a capital bill," said Dan Brady, who is not related to Bill Brady. "It's how you get there from a funding standpoint."
Bill Brady said his caucus could work with the governor on increasing gambling revenue or motor fuel tax, but a "mileage tax" is a non-starter. That would track how many miles each resident drives and tax accordingly.
Bill Brady said he anticipates disagreement on some of Pritzker's broader economic measures, including a graduated income tax that would tax residents more if they make more, and a minimum wage increase.
Republicans, including Barickman, already are working with Democrats on the legalization of recreational marijuana, another potential financial windfall for the state.
Dan Brady said he remains optimistic about improved higher education funding, one of several changes he's advocated for. Brady and Illinois State University President Larry Dietz have both supported a fairer university funding model, which Brady said could be passed during this legislature.
"A lot of their initiatives are things (legislators have) been working on," said Dan Brady of Pritzker's higher education plan, "and I think they'll be very interested to see what we suggest."
Barickman said one way or the other, citizens will know a lot more about what kind of governor Pritzker will be soon. Pritzker is expected to deliver at least one major address — on the state's budget — in the next two months.
"I think the tone for the next four years is going to be set by how things go this spring," said Barickman. "The fortune tellers will be able to predict a lot based on what happens between now and March."