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ENDORSEMENT: J.B. Pritzker for governor, to get Illinois moving again

Video by Rich Hein

Let’s get moving.

Illinois has been losing ground for four long years, and that’s just pathetic for a state blessed with so many strengths.

Take a boat ride on Lake Michigan and wonder at Chicago’s skyline. Ride the California Zephyr through western Illinois and marvel at the cornfields that run to the horizon and feed the world. Fly into O’Hare Airport and remember that our state is still the crossroads of the nation, even now, and our future is bright.

If only we’d get moving.

We’ve been a bed-ridden strongman for too long.

So that’s why we’re endorsing Democrat J.B. Pritzker for governor in the Nov. 6 election. We believe he offers the best plan to put Illinois back on its feet in a way that benefits all of us, from billionaires to bus drivers.

His main opponent, incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, has been a failure.

Pritzker, like Rauner, pledges to do what’s necessary to grow our state’s economy, but he wants to do so in a way that best benefits ordinary people. Sounds good to us. Illinois has suffered through almost four years of a governor whose whole pitch has been to make life easier for the monied classes; it’s about time we remembered who really built this state and country:

Teachers, carpenters and engineers, not venture capitalists. Soldiers, cops and nurses, not hedge fund managers.

Pritzker seems an unlikely champion of working people. He is a venture capitalist himself, born to enormous wealth. His billions of dollars almost make Rauner, despite his half-dozen-plus homes, look middle class.

But Pritzker has a way of looking back on his family’s good fortune with a grateful eye. He loves to tell the story of how his great grandfather came to America as a “penniless” refugee and was “given a place to live” by a social service agency and taught English in a public school. That’s Pritzker’s so-called creation story; every politician’s got one, but his runs like a thread of compassion through all his major policy positions.

RELATED: All candidates recommended by the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board

Pritzker wants to better fund public education, restore vocational education in high schools and create a $15-an-hour minimum wage. He wants to ease the pressure of property taxes and pay down the state’s massive debts by pushing through a graduated income tax that demands more from the rich.

He supports the right of workers to organize, seeming to understand that unions are among the last bulwarks in America against overly concentrated wealth. He is opposed to union-busting “right-to-work zones” that Rauner has championed. He deplores the U.S. Supreme Court’s “Janus” decision in June, which says public employees no longer have to pay fees to the unions that negotiate their wages and benefits.

Not for nothing did Rauner fly to Washington to crow on the day the Janus decision came down. The governor has always wanted to crush organized labor, especially public employee unions, though he will tell you otherwise.

Then again, Rauner has never been much for compromise on anything, which we suppose works pretty well in the business world if you’re the richest person in the room. But not in politics.

The one proposal at the core of Pritzker’s policy agenda is his call for a graduated income tax, which he always hastens to say would increase taxes only on the wealthiest residents of Illinois. Who qualifies as “the wealthiest” he will not say.

This editorial page has long argued for a graduated income tax in Illinois, which 32 other states already have, to replace a flat tax that disproportionately burdens lower income families. For that reason alone, we look forward to a Gov. Pritzker.

The simple fact is that Illinois must pay its bills and shore up its pension funds, even as it makes every effort to cut costs and curb the growth of pension obligations. If not, our state soon will be unable to meet basic obligations, such as policing state highways and offering young people an affordable college education.

And then watch people and businesses flee.

Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) and J.B. Pritzker (D) answer questions about the issues from members of the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Bo

We have conducted endorsement interviews with dozens of candidates for state office in the last few weeks, and many of them, beginning with Rauner, are opposed to a graduated income tax of any shape or size. But not one of these naysayers — not one — has offered a realistic alternative for paying off some $7 billion in old bills and $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.

Pritzker is running in a four-man race. Also running are Libertarian candidate Grayson “Kash” Jackson and Conservative Party candidate Sam McCann.

If Pritzker is elected, Springfield once again will be a town of one-party rule, with Democrats running both the executive and legislative branches. That would trouble us more if we had not just witnessed the disaster of two-party rule under Rauner, during which time he and the Legislature couldn’t even agree on a budget for two years.

The onus will be on the Democrats to show they can govern responsibly.

It will be on Pritzker and his fellow Democrats to further cut costs in creative ways. It will be on them to put every dime of any new revenue toward paying off old bills and funding pension systems. It will be on them to drive a harder bargain on future employee wages and pensions. It will be on them to resist spending new revenue on crowd-pleasing new programs.

It will be on Pritzker and the Democrats, more than ever, to do what Republicans say Democrats are congenitally incapable of doing — say “no.”

J.B. Pritzker is running for governor because he believes in Illinois. He wants to make it better place to raise children, work, play and run a business. And he has this curious notion, dismissed as hogwash by guys like Rauner, that it’s best in politics to stand up for ordinary people.

Because the rich really can take care of themselves.

We’re with Pritzker.

Let’s get moving, Illinois.

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Ahead of the historic 2018 elections, the Sun-Times is teaming up weekly with the Better Government Association, in print and online, to fact-check the truthfulness of the candidates. You can find all of the PolitiFact Illinois stories we’ve reported together here.