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BLOOMINGTON — J.B. Pritzker promised Tuesday to go to bat for Democratic candidates across Illinois this year.

"We have got to run a grassroots campaign everywhere, and I pledge to you that our volunteers are your volunteers," he told Democratic McLean County Clerk nominee Nikita Richards during an event with about 50 attendees — including many candidates and activists — at Illinois Wesleyan University.

"This is our year. We will win in places we've never won before," he said. "We're going to need to work together, all of us, over the coming six months to make it happen."

The Democratic nominee for governor also spoke about his vision for Illinois and what he sees as the damage done to the state by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, a former venture capitalist from Winnetka, during a speech and Q&A session at Hansen Student Center.

"How many people here have any idea if we'll get a budget this year? Nobody here does. ... Bruce Rauner couldn't tell you either. He doesn't have a plan," said Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune from Chicago.

"Two years and six days without a budget," he continued, referring to the budget impasse from 2015 to 2017. "Fiscal responsibility means funding those (social service programs hurt by the impasse), not defunding those."

Pritzker also slammed Rauner for not definitely supporting the Equal Rights Amendment, which local activists have supported and the state Legislature is considering this month. The state Senate has already voted its support.

"Not everybody is going to agree with me on every issue — I can guarantee that — but if they're not for the ERA, they're wrong," said Pritzker. "We need (Gov. Rauner) to stand up — or stand down as governor."

Pritzker spoke generally about reforms, including a graduated income tax and reducing a state sales tax collection fee that costs McLean County units of local government more than $1 million per year, but did not say what the new income tax rates would be or how much he hopes to reduce the sales tax fee.

"Everything about it will be determined with a negotiation with the Legislature at the time, and it will be really transparent to the voters when they get an opportunity to vote on it in a referendum," he told news outlets of the tax proposal.

On the tax collection fee, he added, "I do think the state should be reimbursed for the actual cost (of collecting sales tax), but $60 million (per year) is not the actual cost."

Pritzker also spoke in favor of a $15-per-hour minimum wage, a statewide public option for health insurance, funding state universities, strengthening labor unions, paying more into employee pensions and backing independently drawn legislative maps.

Contact Derek Beigh at (309) 820-3234. Follow him on Twitter: @pg_beigh

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