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Illinois’ governor made a case Tuesday for a second term, saying he engineered a road back to sound state finance.
AP Political Writer
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — 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 includ- ing 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 north- west 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 veter- ans 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 back- log, $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 participa- tion, but he said vaccina- tion 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.”
Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoc- onnor