Herald-Whig View

Pritzker is assembling strong leadership team

Posted: Dec. 30, 2018 12:01 am

ILLINOIS Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker continues to stand behind an election night pledge to reach across the aisle to "try to end the partisan rancor in Springfield and try to get things done" as he assembles his administration ahead of taking office in a little more than two weeks.

One of the most notable displays of bipartisanship by the Chicago Democrat in the immediate aftermath of his resounding victory Nov. 6 was the appointments of former Republican Gov. Jim Edgar and former Senate GOP leader Christine Radogno to his transition team.

Then, last week, outgoing state Rep. David Harris of Arlington Heights, another Republican, was tapped to lead the state's Department of Revenue.

Small steps, perhaps, but those decisions show Pritzker is serious about relying on more than Democratic supermajorities in the House and Senate to form and implement an agenda we all hope will get Illinois back on track.

Moreover, Pritzker has not ignored sections of the state where voters may not have supported his candidacy, notably rural downstate counties, including West-Central Illinois.

That was evident in the naming of Rushville's John Sullivan as director of the Illinois Department of Agriculture, a selection Illinois Farm Bureau President Richard Guebert Jr. called "a great win for Illinois agriculture."

We heartily agree.

Sullivan, a Democrat who represented the Republican-leaning 47th District in the state Senate from 2003 to 2017, has been co-chairman of Pritzker's Growing Our Agricultural Economy Committee. Ursa Farmers Cooperative General Manager Roger Hugenberg also has served on the panel.

At one time the only active farmer in the Senate, Sullivan was chairman of the Senate Agriculture and Conservation Committee and point person on many farm-related issues during his tenure, including renewable fuel programs and the state sales tax exemption to benefit farmers.

In addition, Sullivan was a key member of the Democratic leadership caucus, and relationships he cultivated in the Senate should prove beneficial in his new role.

The challenges awaiting Pritzker and the General Assembly in 2019 are well documented. Illinois is saddled with more than $7 billion in unpaid bills, an unfunded pension liability of about $130 billion that eats up a quarter of the annual budget and the lowest credit rating of any state.

Furthermore, Census data show that Illinois lost more than 33,000 people last year, more than 26,000 the year before and more than 20,000 the year before that. It is imperative, therefore, that the new governor work to improve the business climate to expand jobs and stop residents from fleeing the state.

Things also are worsening on the agricultural front.

The state ranks third nationally in the export of commodities, with $8.2 billion worth of goods shipped annually to other countries, and second in the export of feed grains and soybeans.

However, Illinois is among the states hit hardest by the recent tariff struggle between the U.S. and China. Per-bushel prices for corn and soybeans have dropped precipitously, pinching farmers.

None of those problems will be solved quickly or easily. But as far as issues state government can control, we are encouraged that Pritzker appears to be surrounding himself with good, experienced people with varying views and backgrounds.

It will, after all, take a steady, bipartisan effort to get things done.