SPRINGFIELD — Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his first State of the State address today and is expected to make a pitch for his signature initiative, a graduated-rate income tax, before a legislature roiled by a federal corruption investigation that led to a guilty plea a day earlier from a powerful ex-state senator.
The income tax proposal, which goes before voters in November, is the centerpiece of Pritzker’s long-term plans to stabilize the state’s chronically shaky finances. But the governor’s case has not been helped by the federal probe that on Tuesday, the first day of the legislative session, saw former Sen. Martin Sandoval plead guilty to taking $250,000 in bribes while in office.
The corruption case could bolster one of the primary arguments opponents have deployed against the graduated income tax proposal -- that Illinois taxpayers shouldn’t trust Springfield politicians with any more of their tax dollars.
In his midday address to both chambers of the legislature, Pritzker is expected to recount the legislative successes from his first year in office -- including legalizing recreational marijuana and approving a $45 billion infrastructure improvement plan -- and push for his priorities for 2020, including passing another balanced budget and improving early childhood education.
The federal investigation has spurred bipartisan calls for a range of ethics changes in Springfield, and Pritzker has repeatedly said wrongdoers need to be rooted out of state government. He’s expected to repeat that call in his speech.
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In pleading guilty to bribery and tax charges, Sandoval agreed to cooperate in a widespread public corruption probe. The plea came four months after federal agents raided the Chicago Democrat’s Springfield office.
The new Senate president, Don Harmon, will need to navigate his Democratic caucus through any potential additional fallout from the probe.
“I don’t know if I have ever been more embarrassed than watching the federal government cart cardboard boxes out of the Capitol,” Harmon said of the federal raid on Sandoval’s Springfield office in September. “The chapter is certainly not over, but I think it’s best that Marty Sandoval is no longer a member of the Senate. It reminds us how important it is that we turn our attention to real, meaningful ethics reform.”
Two other Senate Democrats have been ensnared in the federal probe. Sen. Tom Cullerton of Villa Park has pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he had a no-show job with the Teamsters union. A source has told the Chicago Tribune that Sen. Terry Link of Vernon Hills wore a wire for the FBI and is a cooperating witness against former state Rep. Luis Arroyo of Chicago, who is charged with bribing a state senator to support sweepstakes gambling legislation. Link has denied cooperating with investigators. Arroyo is scheduled to be arraigned next week.
There’s a sense of unease around the state Capitol about where the investigation might lead next.
“Every person that was mentioned or referenced in the Sandoval search warrant, whether by name or by letter or by number, should be very concerned about their future,” said House Republican leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs.
Ethics are one of the top priorities for the Senate Republican caucus, GOP leader Bill Brady said in an interview Tuesday.
Brady suggested that penalties need to be higher for public officials who are found to have taken a bribe or bribed someone and said there needs to be more transparency about the activities of elected officials.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker will deliver his first State of the State address on Wednesday and is expected to make a pitch for his signature initiative, a graduated-rate income tax, before a legislature roiled by a federal corruption investigation that led to a guilty plea a day earlier from a powerful ex-state senator.
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