News Local/State

Pritzker Says He’ll Blend Business, Government Expertise

Democratic candidate for JB Pritzker in the WGLT studios on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017.

Democratic candidate for JB Pritzker in the WGLT studios on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. Cindy Le/WGLT

Democratic candidate for governor JB Pritzker said Thursday he knows the difference between running a business and running government and is experienced in both, unlike the two other wealthy businessmen—Bruce Rauner and Donald Trump—who’ve struggled in their transition to public office.

Pritzker appeared on public radio station WGLT for a 20-minute interview during a campaign swing through Bloomington, where he was scheduled for a lunchtime visit at a union hall.

Pritzker has addressed his own personal wealth head-on throughout the campaign, repeatedly arguing that this race is “not about money, it’s about values.” Voters who’ve seen Rauner and Trump struggling in their respective roles may be wondering if someone who is wealthy just isn’t qualified to run government, Pritzker said. But the Chicago Democrat said he’s unique qualified because he’s worked in government previously, noting that he was chair of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, the state’s civil rights court.

I'll be the state's best chief marketing officer."J.B. Pritzker

“I know how to create jobs. The most important thing to business people who want to create jobs is not the lowest tax rate or the lowest labor rate. The first thing you want is stability. We don’t have that in Illinois,” Pritzker said, arguing that Rauner has caused that instability.

Pritzker called Rauner a “failed governor.” He said the Republican goes too far in bad-mouthing Illinois in his attempts to pass his legislative agenda.

In response, Rauner's campaign spokesperson said he's "fighting to grow jobs by pushing job-creating economic reforms and property tax relief."

"Today, he announced the Discovery Partners Institute, led by the University of Illinois, which will bring hundreds of millions of dollars in direct investment, as well as create a hub to attract more business to Illinois for decades to come," Rauner spokesperson Justin Giorgio said in an email. "Mike Madigan and JB Pritzker, on the other hand, oppose a property tax freeze and support massive income tax hikes, killing Illinois jobs."

Madigan, in fact, expressed openness to a property tax freeze earlier this year during budget negotiations.

Pritzker touted his five-point plan for creating jobs in Illinois, focusing on infrastructure, small businesses and startups, higher education investment, agriculture, and manufacturing. Pritzker said he wants to better support small businesses by expanding the availability of loans, restoring and expanding small business development centers, and better lending protections.

“We also need to attract big businesses to Illinois, and you can’t do that when you’ve got a governor who bad-mouths the state every day,” Pritzker said. “I’ll be the state’s best chief marketing officer.”

Pritzker supports a change that would eliminate Illinois’ flat income tax and replace it with a progressive (or graduated) income tax, where your tax rate will vary based on your income level. For that to happen, he said, voters will have to elect state legislators in 2018 who support it.

“We have to run and win on that issue,” he said.

Pritzker has emerged as an early front-runner for the Democratic nomination, in large part to endorsements from 23 labor unions around Illinois. He was also endorsed this month by the Democratic County Chairmen’s Association, winning the support of 65 county chairmen. The only other candidate to get any support was Chris Kennedy with 17.

While it may appear early in the cycle for Democratic party officials to endorse—before primary voters see their ballots—Pritzker said this election cycle was already running unusually early.

“From April (when Pritzker formally announced his candidacy) until now, it’s a long time for the county chairs to evaluate the candidates, and they’ve met everyone running. I’m very proud that I won the support of a strong majority of those county chairs,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker touted his own independence from House Speaker Michael Madigan during the GLT interview, calling himself an “independent progressive” leader. Pritzker said he supports independently drawn legislative boundaries and term limits for legislative leaders—two issues he says would place him at odds with Madigan.

“I’ll work with the speaker on the things I think are good for people of Illinois. But I won’t work for the speaker,” Pritzker said.

Other Democratic candidates for governor include Kennedy, state Sen. Daniel Biss, Madison County Regional Superintendent of Schools Bob Daiber and anti-violence activist Tio Hardiman.