State

New Legislature underway with big Democratic majorities

State Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, is elected to another term as Senate president after the swearing-in of the Illinois Senate of the 101st General Assembly on Wednesday at the Capitol in Springfield.
State Sen. John Cullerton, D-Chicago, is elected to another term as Senate president after the swearing-in of the Illinois Senate of the 101st General Assembly on Wednesday at the Capitol in Springfield.

A new Illinois legislative session got underway Wednesday with Democrats firmly in control but both parties pledging to turn the page on years of budget stalemates, government dysfunction and name-calling.

Democrat Michael Madigan, already the longest-serving state House speaker in U.S. history, was easily elected to his 19th term. Other leaders – Senate President John Cullerton and GOP leaders Rep. Jim Durkin and Sen. Bill Brady – also were re-elected.

It was Madigan who was the target of most of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's attacks during a years-long state budget impasse that saw Illinois go deeper into debt and prompted huge cuts to higher education, social services and other areas.

Madigan and other leaders noted Illinois still faces big challenges, from an imbalanced state budget to crumbling infrastructure.

"To solve these problems we need people to work with people," Madigan said during a House inauguration ceremony in Springfield.

Democrats picked up seats in both chambers in the November election, when Democratic billionaire J.B. Pritzker also unseated Rauner.

The 101st General Assembly has the largest percentage of Democratic lawmakers of any Illinois Legislature in more than five decades. Democrats now have a 74-44 majority in the House and a 40-19 edge in the Senate.

Rauner presided over the swearing-in of the new Senate in one of his last official acts before he leaves office and Pritzker is inaugurated on Monday. He congratulated lawmakers and wished them well.

Cullerton, who was elected to his sixth term as president, thanked Rauner while acknowledging the two "had our differences."

"You took on a challenge when others merely complain from the sidelines," he said.

Before the new Senate was sworn in, the previous Senate voted 33-21 to give approval to a measure to raise salaries by 15 percent for agency directors and assistant directors. Pritzker requested the increase, saying it was necessary to bring in top talent.

Durkin noted the bipartisan support for that measure, and another to replace the Illinois Tollway board because of questionable spending and contracting, as a sign Republicans are ready to work with their Democratic colleagues.

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