Election season cast a long shadow on 2014. We saw the most expensive and one of the ugliest fights for the governor’s office in the state’s history. Now Illinois has a Republican governor for the first time in more than a decade. Meanwhile in the legislature, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton were both able to hang on to veto-proof majorities in their respective chambers, despite some aggressive challenges mounted by Republican candidates.
As politicians up for reelection weighed their futures, we saw a fair amount of drama play out during the spring legislative session but little in the way of major legislative action. The General Assembly punted on the biggest budget issue they faced—rollback of the temporary income tax increase. Instead, they passed a budget patched together by borrowing and delaying payments and got the heck out of Dodge and back to their districts to campaign.
The most organized effort in recent history to pass an amendment that would have removed the requirement for a flat income tax from the state’s constitution fizzled out. A push to increase the state’s minimum wage could not cross the finish line before the General Assembly adjourned at the end of May. Instead, supporters took the question to voters in November, and they responded with strong support of an increase. Outside of the legislature, two citizens’ initiatives—one that would have changed the way the state draws legislative districts and one that would have imposed terms limits on lawmakers—failed to make it to the ballot.
Compare that to 2013, which was a banner year for drastic policy changes. Our December issue includes stories on the approval of same-sex marriage, hydraulic fracturing regulations and medical marijuana. The rules for implementing the last two laws were approved this year. Both fracking and the state’s medical marijuana pilot program are expected to kick off in earnest in the spring.
So instead of rehashing the “biggest” stories of the year, we opted to focus on the stories that had an impact on us over this last year. The ones that stayed with us and made us think about important issues in our state. We decided to look at three categories: the budget; wages and poverty; and the state’s efforts to care for at-risk children. For each category, we chose two stories that highlight a different facet of the topics. Versions of all but one of these pieces have run in previous issues of the magazine. However, we have updated statistics and reworked some of the stories to reflect changes that have occurred since they were originally published. This issue also offers a new column from Charlie Wheeler, reflecting on what the election says about our state.
Hopefully you enjoy revisiting these pieces as much as we did. We will be back in print in January with new stories from several members of our staff. In 2015, Illinois will have a new state treasurer, some new members in the General Assembly and its Congressional delegation and a new governor. But the state will still have several lingering problems to address. It’s going to be an interesting year.
Happy holidays and take care.
Illinois Issues, December 2014