SPRINGFIELD — J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday said he has engineered a road back to sound state finances in making a case for a second term as Illinois governor, but he carefully left open continuing to pursue a graduated income tax that would raise revenue by taking a bigger chunk from the wealthy.
The Democrat pointed to a balanced budget that holds the line on most spending except for schools, eliminating a monstrous pile of overdue bills and bond-house credit rating upgrades despite voters' rejection last fall of the tax change all while managing the coronavirus pandemic which has sickened 1.4 million and killed more than 23,000.
“I'm excited because the state’s moving in the right direction, we want to keep going, we have more yet to do,” Pritzker told The Associated Press in one of a number of interviews with Statehouse reporters a day after he tweeted his 2022 re-election plans. “I believe in the people of our state, and we’ve proven that the direction we’re going is the right one. And people are doing things to lift up their communities that we’re helping to support.”
But he didn't rule out a second try at what he calls the “fair tax" because 97% of taxpayers would pay the same or lower taxes. He merely said there were no plans for a campaign before his current term expires in January 2023.
A Pritzker victory next year would mark the first time an Illinois governor has been re-elected since Rod Blagojevich in 2006. The 56-year-old multi-billionaire, a private equity investor and heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune, bested a crowded field of talented Democrats in 2018. He then defeated Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, whose popularity had sunk because of a two-year budget standoff with Democrats in the General Assembly, in one of the more expensive gubernatorial races in U.S. history.
Pritzker spent nearly $150 million of his own money. With $33 million in his campaign account now, he has thus far drawn opposition from little-known Republicans including including Sen. Darren Bailey of Xenia, who captured headlines last summer with court challenges to Pritzker’s COVID-19 emergency orders; former state Sen. Paul Schimpf; and Gary Rabine, a businessman from the northwest suburbs of Chicago.
“It's a mess over there on the Republican side,” Pritzker said. “They need to work all that out. We’ll see where they end up.”
Rabine noted that Pritzker raised taxes to pay for a $45 billion infrastructure plan and this year by eliminating corporate tax breaks he approved just two years ago, increased spending with the help of federal pandemic relief and oversaw the state's first-ever drop in population in the 2020 Census.
Schimpf, a state senator from Waterloo from 2017 to 2021, decried the “Pritzker Leadership Deficit,” contending “he has failed to stand up to corruption, failed to protect our veterans and families, and failed to help overtaxed Illinoisans.”
Bailey said Pritzker was attempting to “buy another election," that his COVID-19 restrictions hurt small businesses and that he was conducting a “war on police” in approving tighter rules on law enforcement in the criminal justice system.
Billions of dollars in federal coronavirus-relief loans, due in December 2023, will be paid back early under a May agreement Pritzker reached with legislative leaders, about the time they trumpeted the fact that the bill backlog, $15 billion when Pritzker took office, is now at $7 billion—the amount ready for the state comptroller's action is $3 billion, about the amount that can be paid on a 30-day cycle.
The budget that takes effect July 1 does include $2.5 billion in additional federal aid, $1 billion of which Democrats set aside for capital construction projects that have been designed and are ready for groundbreaking. That means Pritzker an a lot of Democratic lawmakers could benefit from election-year photo ops of ribbon cuttings at shiny new facilities.
His profile raised during his response to the pandemic, which for much of last year included daily public briefings, Pritzker pledged to continue encouraging people to get vaccinated at a time when virus variants pose deadly risks and resistance to the shots grows in part because of misinformation Pritzker labeled “Facebook fakery.”
That will include incentives such as lotteries offering millions of dollars in prizes to entrants who have received at least one vaccination shot, which debuted this month. Pritzker did not say whether such incentives have increased participation, but he said vaccination is the only way to get past the worldwide health crisis.
“That’s why we’re doing everything that we possibly can and we have been since the very beginning to communicate to people how important this is not just for their neighbors, their friends, but for themselves,” Pritzker said. “You want to keep yourself, your family, your community safe.”
48 Olympic athletes with Illinois ties
Aisha Praught-Leer, Jamaica: 1,500-meter run
Alyssa Naeher, United States, soccer
Andrea Filler, Italy, soccer
Casey Krueger, United States, soccer
Darryl Sullivan, United States: High jump
David Kendziera, United States: 400-meter hurdles
David Robertson, United States, baseball
DeAnna Price, United States: Hammer
Eddy Alvarez, United States, baseball
Edwin Jackson, United States, baseball
Eliza Stone, United States: Saber
Evita Griskenas, United States, rhythmic gymnastics
Felicia Stancil, United States: BMX racing
Gwen Berry, United States: Hammer
Jewell Loyd, United States, women’s basketball team
Jordan Wilimovsky, United States: 10-kilometer
Jordyn Poulter, United States, volleyball
Josh Zeid, Israel, baseball
Julie Ertz, United States, soccer
Kelsey Card, United States: Discus
Kelsey Robinson, United States, volleyball
Kent Farrington, United States: Show jumping
Kevin McDowell, United States
Laura Zeng, United States, rhythmic gymnastics
Lauren Doyle, United States, rugby
Maggie Shea, United States, sailing
Michelle Bartsch-Hackley, United States, volleyball
Mitch Glasser, Israel, baseball
Nefeli Papadakis, United States, judo
North Shore Rhythmic Gymnastics team, United States: Rhythmic gymnastics team competition
Pedrya Seymour, Bahamas: 100-meter hurdles
Rajeev Ram, United States: Men’s doubles
Raven Saunders, United States: Shot put
Ryan Murphy, United States: 100- and 200-meter backstroke
Sandi Morris, United States: Pole vault
Thomas Detry, Belgium, golf
Thomas Jaeschke, United States, volleyball
Thomas Pieters, Belgium, golf
Tierna Davidson, United States, soccer
Tim Federowicz, United States, baseball
Tim Nedow, Canada: Shot put
Tomáš Satoranský, Czech Republic, men’s basketball team
Tori Franklin, United States: Triple jump
Tyson Bull, Australia: Horizontal bar
Zach LaVine, United States, men’s basketball team
Zach Ziemek, United States: Decathlon
Olivia Smoliga, United States: 400-meter freestyle relay
Lawyers for Illinois’ Democratic legislative leaders last week filed a motion to dismiss a lawsuit from Republicans and a Mexican American advocacy group regarding newly drawn legislative maps, calling the challenge “purely speculative” until full U.S. Census data is released.