Gov. J.B. Pritzker was officially inaugurated as Illinois' 43rd governor on Monday, delivering an address that highlighted his campaign promises, subtly jabbed at his predecessor and painted a soaring picture of the state's future.
"Everything is not broken," Pritzker said in his inaugural address.
"So today, with all the challenges Illinois faces, Democrats and Republicans will work together, and we must begin with our most basic responsibilities," he continued. "We will propose, debate and pass a balanced budget this year."
Pritzker delivered that line to raucous applause, in what could be seen as a dig at Gov. Bruce Rauner, who presided over the longest state budget impasse in U.S. history for more than two years beginning in 2015.
Rauner was in the audience as Pritzker took the oath of office at the Bank of Springfield Center, as part of a ceremony that began at 11 a.m. with several choir and band performances that got audience members on their feet.
"Balancing the budget means lowering the cost of government while delivering the high quality services Illinoisans deserve," Pritzker said.
"But be clear about this: I won’t balance the budget on the backs of the starving, the sick, and the suffering. I won’t hollow out the functions of government to achieve an ideological agenda – I won’t make government the enemy and government employees the scapegoats. Responsible fiscal management is a marriage of numbers - and values," he added.
Pritzker then vowed to work toward what was one of the main tentpoles of his campaign agenda: a progressive income tax system. Illinois is bound by its state constitution to a flat tax, meaning the change would need a constitutional amendment - a task more difficult than the passage and signing of legislation.
"The current tax system is simply unsustainable. Others have lied to you about that fact. I won’t," Pritzker said. "The future of Illinois depends on the passage of a fair income tax."
"I’m not naïve about what it will take to do this. All who enter a discussion about our state’s budget and a fair tax system in good faith will be welcomed to the table. But if you lead with partisanship and scare tactics you will be met with considerable political will," Pritzker said, the spectre of his massive campaign funds draped over that line.
A billionaire venture capitalist and heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune, Pritzker shattered records by donating more than $171.5 million of his own money to his campaign, and announced last week that he would double some key staff members' salaries from his own money as well.
Pritzker outlined what he planned to do with the revenue he hoped to generate from a progressive income tax: update infrastructure like roads and bridges, deliver high-speed broadband internet to everyone across the state, and more.
He also vowed that one of his first acts as governor would be Illinois' joining of the U.S. Climate Alliance, to uphold "the goals and ideals of the Paris Climate Accord," the landmark international environmental protections agreement from which President Donald Trump withdrew the U.S. in 2017.
Pritzker also highlighted his push for a $15 minimum wage and the legalization of recreational marijuana.
One line of his speech that drew perhaps the loudest round of applause was his praise of diversity in government.
"I have built a cabinet of people who bring with them experiences I don’t share, from communities I did not come from, with expertise I don’t have, because to lead well, all of Illinois must be represented in the decision making," he said. "Furthermore, I want all the children of Illinois to see someone who looks like them in my government."
Pritzker ended his speech on a hopeful note, sharing the story of a Barrington couple whose neighborhood all flew rainbow flags after their flag was stolen, calling to light what he said was Illinoisans' "capacity to be kind."
"Thank you Illinois, for your faith in me," Pritzker closed. "I promise to live up to it every day. Together let’s go into this new century with enough faith to help each other out of our troubles, with enough foolishness to believe we can make a difference in the world, and with enough kindness to find the courage to change."
His speech was immediately followed by the swearing-in of Lieutenant Gov. Juliana Stratton, Illinois' first African-American woman to fill that role, as well as the oaths of office for the rest of the statewide officers, including Attorney General Kwame Raoul, Secretary of State Jesse White, Comptroller Susana Mendoza and Treasurer Michael Frerichs.
The inauguration ceremony was preceded by a whirlwind weekend leading up to the main event. Pritzker hosted an Open House on Sunday at the Old State Capitol in Springfield that was attended by Illinois residents and numerous dignitaries, including Senator Dick Durbin.
Pritzker also hosted a day of service on Saturday, serving dinner at the Lutheran Social Services of Illinois residence in Aurora and participating in an emergency preparedness event in Rockford with the Illinois Red Cross.
Following Monday’s inauguration, the governor hosted a party at the Exposition Building of the Illinois State Fairgrounds. That party, which came with a price tag of $250 per ticket, was headlined by Maroon 5 and raised money for the Cabrini Green Legal Aid fund and the Illinois Fairgrounds Foundation.
After the parties wrap up in the capital, Pritzker will get to work on the ambitious agenda that he laid out during both his contentious election battle with Rauner and his inaugural speech.
He will do so with big Democratic supermajorities in both legislatures, though that certainly won't guarantee him any victories.
The legislature, seated last week, will remain firmly in Democratic hands as they have a governor from their party for the first time in four years, and the task before them will be great as they get to work as well.