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After big first-year wins, Pritzker looks to health care, Chicago casino — and dumping Trump

“I’m very hopeful that in the session of the Legislature that is coming up starting in January that we’ll begin to put together a bill and get it passed,” the rookie governor said about the Chicago casino.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a press conference before signing Senate Bill 177, intended to bolster a diverse workforce on Rebuild Illinois capital projects, at LiUNA Training Center on the West Side, Tuesday afternoon.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

Hoping for another productive legislative session, Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Tuesday vowed to tackle pensions, early child education, criminal justice reform and health care next year — as well as the elusive Chicago casino.

“I’m very hopeful that in the session of the Legislature that is coming up starting in January that we’ll begin to put together a bill, and get it passed,” the rookie governor said when asked about a Chicago casino.

Signing a bill designed to ensure diversity in state capital projects, Pritzker fielded questions on his legislative agenda and the presidential race at the LiUNA Training Center on the West Side.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker greets supporters at LiUNA Training Center on the West Side after signing legislation intended to bolster a diverse workforce on Rebuild Illinois capital projects, Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 10, 2019.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker greets supporters at LiUNA Training Center on the West Side after signing legislation intended to bolster a diverse workforce on Rebuild Illinois capital projects, Tuesday afternoon, Dec. 10, 2019.
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

In his first year, the Democratic governor has already achieved significant wins, such as passing a massive $45 billion capital plan — not to mention the legalization of recreational marijuana, a sweeping expansion of gambling and the strengthening of the state’s abortion laws.

The governor also succeeded in putting a question on next year’s ballot to amend the state constitution to try to change the state’s tax structure from a flat rate on income to his preferred graduated income tax plan, one of the rookie governor’s top priorities.

Pritzker now has a new 2020 wish list, which includes the long-sought casino, additional pension reform and the expansion of early childhood education.

“Criminal justice reform is an area that I’ve already done a lot on in the spring session last year, but now I think we’ll be revisiting some of the issues that came up over the last few years that never got passed,” Pritzker said. “I’m also very focused on making sure that we’re expanding opportunities for working families to get ahead of — you know, I‘ve talked a lot about lowering the cost of healthcare, lowing the cost of childcare, lowering the cost of education, so that we can raise the standard of living and people who are working in our state.”

And the billionaire Chicagoan remains bullish about finally winning the casino Chicago has been pursuing off and on for more than a quarter of a century.

A Chicago casino was included in the gambling bill Pritzker signed into law over the summer, but a consultant ultimately concluded the prescribed tax rate was too “onerous” to attract developers, and a central location would make more sense than the city’s proposed South and West Side sites.

Changing the tax structure would require General Assembly action.

While casino negotiations accelerated during the veto session last month, ultimately, Mayor Lori Lightfoot and her team couldn’t get enough support to pass a compromise measure — and some lawmakers wanted an extra piece of revenue for their districts. The rookie mayor still has the support of Pritzker, who is counting on revenue from the Chicago mega-casino to help fund his signature capital projects plan.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signs Senate Bill 177, intended to bolster a diverse workforce on Rebuild Illinois capital projects.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks during a press conference before signing Senate Bill 177
Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Sun-Times

And speaking of 2020, Pritzker — who has been a prolific contributor to Democratic campaigns in the past — remains mum on his pick for the presidential primary next year. Pritzker and his wife M.K. Pritzker contributed $16.7 million to Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign.

“I’m working towards selecting the Democrat. We are going to defeat Donald Trump,” Pritzker said. “I’m in favor of whoever wins on the Democratic side. That’s who I’m going to be voting for.”

Pritzker has also been a consistent critic of President Donald Trump, having called on the president to be impeached two years ago. The governor said he’s been keeping track of the impeachment hearings and believes Trump has committed “misdeeds.”

“It is clear to me that significant evidence has been put forward that shows that President Trump has committed misdeeds, that he has committed wrongdoing, that impeachment is warranted by the House of Representatives,” Pritzker said.

“It will then go, I hope, to the Senate where I would implore the members of the Senate, particularly members of the GOP, to do their duty, to make sure they understand that corruption that’s occurred in Washington, D.C., by this president on behalf of his own personal interests in a way that is spelled out in the fact, by the framers of that Constitution, that calls for impeachment.

“He needs to be thrown out.”