When it comes to Illinois state government over the past half century, James Nowlan has been both a watcher and participant.
He’s a former state lawmaker, was Richard Ogilvie’s running mate in 1972 and worked in Jim Thompson’s administration. He later was president of the Taxpayer’s Federation and chair of the Illinois Executive Ethics Commission. He’s also serving on a transition team for the incoming governor J.B. Pritzker.
Nowlan also writes a weekly newspaper column and, in a recent article, discussed how the transition afterglow for the new governor will fade fast.
In an interview with Statewide, Nowlan pointed out fiscal problems will put a damper on expectations. “The new governor will find himself in a box, not of his own making,” he said. “That will be frustrating, exasperating for him and his backers.”
Nowlan explained the $8 billion backlog of bills, coupled with an expected $3 billion deficit in this year’s budget, add to the woes. Efforts to raise more money might help, but he thinks expectations for a windfall from more gambling and legalizing recreational marijuana may be too optimistic. He said asking people to pay more taxes is also tricky.
“Would new revenues dampen the economic vitality of the state by driving more people out?” Nowlan pondered.
He has his own ideas. Among them, stretch out state public pension payments so that annual contributions from government are smaller. He admits that is “kicking the can down the road.” But he said otherwise, the pension debt will choke investment in needed services like child welfare.
As for Governor-elect Pritzker, Nowlan’s advice to him is to surround himself with good people, both from inside and outside government.