On Jan. 17, businessman J.B. Pritzker appeared before the Chicago Sun-Times Editorial Board. We asked him why he’s running for Illinois governor in the November 2018 general election:
The Chicago Sun-Times sent the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for Governor a list of questions to find out their views on a range of important issues facing the state of Illinois. J.B. Pritzker submitted the following answers to our questionnaire:
TOPIC: Key challenges
What are the two biggest problems facing Illinois and what would you do about them?
Pritzker: Our state’s two biggest challenges are the failure to address the state’s poor fiscal condition and the deterioration of our education system, both of which have been exacerbated under Bruce Rauner’s failed leadership.
Unfortunately, Rauner’s fiscal mismanagement and manufactured two-year budget crisis blocked critical investments in education, human services, and economic development, especially in some of our most economically challenged communities. And Rauner’s divisive rhetoric and vilification of the Chicagoland region has pitted rural, suburban, and urban communities against each other.
During Rauner’s tenure, job growth has slowed, and our higher education system is in worse shape than ever before.
We can reverse this trend if we prioritize and invest in workers, children, and families to give them the tools they need for success – like universal preschool and childcare, quality, equitable, public K-12 education, stable and affordable higher education, community safety, wage growth, and job opportunities. That’s why, as governor, I’ll remain committed to creating economic opportunity, expanding healthcare, reducing gun violence, and investing in quality education. I have worked in each of these areas over decades, and I have proposed plans for our state to meet these priorities.
ADDRESSING THE STATE’S FISCAL CONDITION: It’s the constitutional obligation of the governor to propose a balanced budget to the legislature. In three years, Bruce Rauner hasn’t met that obligation even once. To address the state’s fiscal challenges, I will propose a forward-thinking balanced budget that prioritizes job creation, expanded healthcare coverage, and quality, equitable public education. I will work with the legislature and stakeholders to get it passed. If I receive an unbalanced budget from the legislature as governor, I will bring legislators to the table so we can make sure we’re prioritizing jobs, education, and healthcare. Unlike Bruce Rauner, I won’t give up before it’s done and claim “I’m not in charge.”
A balanced budget requires three components: expenditures, revenue, and economic growth.
Both expenditures and revenues should be discussed, but all in the context of how to best create prosperity for working families. To pay for critically important priorities, I will focus on reforming our tax system to make it less regressive. I have proposed a progressive income tax for Illinois so we can meet our obligations to fund education while lowering regressive property taxes and protecting the middle class from further increases.
OUR DETERIORATING EDUCATION SYSTEM: We need to provide a quality public education to every child in Illinois. The best economic resources we have in our state are our people, but Illinois is nearly last in the nation in state funding for public education. Bruce Rauner is failing to prepare the next generation of Illinoisans for the jobs of tomorrow. As governor, my priority will be ensuring that all kids in Illinois get the quality public education they deserve, from birth through their career.
That starts with early childhood education. I released a five-point plan for early childhood education that would make sure every child benefits from participation in kindergarten, puts the state on a path towards universal preschool for three and four year olds, increases access to the Child Care Assistance Program, expands birth-to-three services, attracts teachers to fill high need positions, and invests in our education infrastructure.
We also need to increase state investments in public education across the board so that we move away from relying upon local property taxes and move toward the constitutional requirement of having the majority of our education funding come from the state. We can get there with a progressive income tax. It’s time for a tax system where those who can afford it pay more, our middle class and those striving to get into the middle class get relief, and our kids get the education they deserve. I want to bring back vocational training to our high schools. Young men and women who decide not to go to college should be able to graduate high school and build careers without a college degree. Those who want to go to college should be able to do that without getting strapped with debt for the rest of their lives. During Rauner’s massive disinvestment from higher education, tens of thousands of college students, our best future economic resources, left the state.
We face some enormous challenges in Illinois. Bruce Rauner’s 736-day budget crisis, followed by last summer’s school funding crisis, have done real damage to our economy, our safety net, and the public education system. Rauner didn’t create all of Illinois’ problems, but he certainly has made them worse. I’ve spent my life fighting to get results for the people of this state, and I’m ready to meet the challenges we face and move our state forward. I am confident that we can get our state back on track with a bold vision for a future we can be proud of.
Who is J.B. Pritzker?
He is running for: Democratic nomination for Illinois Governor
His political/civic background in his own words: I’ve spent my life fighting for fundamental Democratic values and getting big things done for Illinois families and communities in both the public and private sectors. For over 20 years, I’ve been a national advocate for early childhood education, including organizing the White House Summit on Early Childhood Education for President Obama in 2014. I helped expand federal school breakfast grants in Illinois so that over 200,000 more children in low-income school districts receive school breakfast. I chaired the Illinois Human Rights Commission, the state agency that helps people find justice when they’ve been discriminated against in housing or in the workplace. I worked with dedicated Holocaust survivors for a decade to build the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which teaches more than 60,000 Illinois students and teachers each year to fight bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.
I’ve also supported the Center on Wrongful Convictions in their critical work to reform our criminal justice system and fight for those who have experienced a miscarriage of justice. For more than a decade, I helped lead efforts to turn the Chicago region into a leading technology startup hub. I chaired the Technology and Entrepreneurship Committee for the City of Chicago and helped create the Chicago Venture Summit and the healthcare startup center MATTER. I founded 1871, a non-profit startup business incubator, which has helped create over 7,000 new jobs in Illinois and has helped make Chicago one of the top technology startup hubs in the world.
In 1991, I co-founded a national organization based in Chicago that attracted thousands of young people to become Democratic Party leaders, and in 1998, I ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic nomination for U.S. Congress. In 2008 and 2016 I served as a delegate from Illinois to the Democratic National Convention.
His occupation: Businessman
His education: B.A., Duke University and J.D., Northwestern University School of Law
Campaign website: jbpritzker.com
Recent news: J.B. Pritzker
TOPIC: Red ink and taxes
Even after raising the personal state income tax rate to 4.95 percent, Illinois has $9 billion in unpaid bills. The state also must pay billions of dollars over the next 12 years to service the debt on $6 billion borrowed to cover previous unpaid bills. That’s a problem. What’s your solution? Under what circumstances, if any, would you support a higher income tax?
Pritzker: A progressive income tax would end the unfair practice of balancing the budget on the backs of working families who can least afford it. A progressive and fair income tax would ensure we can protect the middle class and those striving to get there while asking the wealthiest Illinoisans to step up. We can also add revenue by legalizing and taxing the recreational use of marijuana, which is estimated to help generate as much as $700 million a year for the state.
One of the most important ways to increase state revenue is to grow jobs and economic activity, which is an important focus of my campaign and something I have done in my own business and in my active effort to build the technology startup ecosystem in Illinois. As we seek to balance revenue and expenditures in the state’s budget, creating new jobs and spurring economic growth is an important component that seems too often overlooked.
I have put forward new ideas and real plans for improving Illinois’ economic climate, including a five-point job creation plan for the state and changes to our tax system that will make it fairer for working families.
My job creation plan focuses on attracting and building up small businesses, building infrastructure, such as statewide high-speed broadband internet connectivity, investing in higher education, nurturing our agricultural economy, and jumpstarting manufacturing. It’s especially important that we help communities that have suffered years of disinvestment, across Chicago and downstate, by giving small business owners and new entrepreneurs the attention and resources they need to thrive, like access to capital, training, and mentorship. Having engaged in building a fast-growing startup environment in Chicago, I believe strongly in Illinoisans’ creativity and entrepreneurial drive as the best creator of new jobs for Illinois.
We must also be in a position to attract large businesses, their headquarters and facilities, wherever possible. Bruce Rauner has continually bad-mouthed the state and has gone out of his way to invite governors from surrounding states to help him criticize Illinois. Even in his recent trade mission to Asia, Rauner continued to bad-mouth Illinois. Rauner has run a massive negative branding campaign against the state of Illinois through paid and earned media, and it has had a substantial impact on jobs and growth. Even with our state’s many challenges, we have extraordinarily attractive features that are worth extolling the virtues of. As governor, I will be our state’s best Chief Marketing Officer.
The most significant long term investment we can make to grow our economy is doubling down on our best attribute in Illinois: our dedicated and talented workforce. Talent is what attracts companies like Amazon and GE Transportation. But there’s nothing that drives businesses away from Illinois more than the instability caused by Bruce Rauner’s failure to propose a balanced budget, and the 736-day crushing blow to human services meant to strengthen Illinois families.
To grow revenue and balance the state’s budget, we must work together to rebuild from the damage done by Rauner. To create jobs, we must attract businesses from other states and encourage entrepreneurial Illinois businesses to start and grow by stabilizing the state’s fiscal situation and investing in our people. We must commit to funding quality public education that will ensure that Illinois employers have access to a large, skilled workforce and will set our children on a path to success from cradle to career. We must also prioritize infrastructure modernization and improvements, from roads, bridges, and waterways to broadband and energy systems across our state.
TOPIC: Underfunded pensions
Illinois has $130 billion of unfunded pension liability. Do you support re-amortizing this debt? Do you support a constitutional amendment that would reduce the liability? Please explain.
Pritzker: I believe it’s a moral obligation to live up to the commitments made to those who have been promised pensions. Furthermore, the courts have ruled on the existing constitutional provision. Poor management of our pension liabilities by both parties has put our pension system at risk. While there’s no time to waste, Bruce Rauner has squandered three years with his unwillingness to compromise.
To manage future budgets and meet our pension obligations, we should determine a level dollar annual payment beginning now and into future years and re-amortize the pension payment schedule so we pay into the system at a rate that pays all pensioners what is due.
I do not believe we need a constitutional amendment to reduce our current liability.
TOPIC: Gun laws
Do you support a state ban on gun silencers? Should all gun dealers in Illinois be licensed by the state? Should family members be empowered to petition the courts for the temporary confiscation of guns from mentally or emotionally disturbed people who may be a danger to themselves or others?
Pritzker: Yes, yes, and yes.
Reducing gun violence is a top priority for me. Far too many families and communities across this state, from Chicago to Rockford and Peoria, are all too familiar with the tragedies of gun violence. It is killing innocent people, destroying families, and ripping apart our communities. In Chicago alone, gun violence took the lives of nearly 700 people last year. In order to attack the root causes of gun violence, we have to take action by creating economic opportunity and jobs and increasing funding for human services so people aren’t turning to violence. Stabilizing state government, passing budgets, and funding our safety net have been core tenets of this campaign and will help address gun violence across the state.
As governor, how would you ensure the long-term viability of the state’s Medicaid program? Do you support continued Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act? Should the state continue on a path toward managed care for Medicaid beneficiaries? Should everyone be permitted to buy into Medicaid?
Pritzker: I support continuing the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. I believe healthcare is a right, not a privilege, which is why I favor universal health coverage. The state should do as much as it can to move in that direction as soon as possible, and I’m the only candidate with a plan that would expand coverage right away. My public health insurance option plan, called IllinoisCares, would allow even more Illinoisans to be covered and would give middle class families and small businesses a break on the high cost of health insurance. I will work with legislators and healthcare stakeholders to implement this public option to provide another choice in the health insurance marketplace. It will act as a buffer against rising premiums and market uncertainty – at no cost to taxpayers.
Bruce Rauner and his administration’s expansion of managed care has been plagued with secrecy and controversy. As governor, I will make sure contracting with Medicaid MCOs is transparent and will protect the health and well-being of children and families.
TOPIC: Affordable Care Act
Under the ACA, 650,000 Illinoisans gained health insurance coverage. If the program is abolished or diminished by Congress, what action would you take, if any, to maintain health insurance coverage for these Illinoisans? Where would you find the money?
Pritzker: President Obama’s ACA was a major step forward for our country, and we need to build on his progress. Unlike Bruce Rauner, I have actively resisted Donald Trump’s efforts to dismantle the ACA by protesting and by running an advertising campaign to encourage ACA signups when Trump cut back on enrollment marketing by almost 90 percent. I will keep the pressure on our federal and state elected officials to do what’s right and protect healthcare for Illinoisans.
As governors in other states have done, I will provide meaningful leadership that will protect and expand healthcare across our state. My plan, IllinoisCares, would make Illinois the first state in the nation to adopt a program that protects Illinoisans from rising premiums at no additional cost to taxpayers, and it will save money for middle class families.
TOPIC: College student exodus
Illinois is one of the largest exporters of college students in the country. What would you do to encourage the best and brightest young people in Illinois to attend college here at home? Does Illinois have too many state universities, as some have argued?
Pritzker: Illinois’ colleges and universities are the backbone of local economies. These institutions are some of our state’s greatest economic engines, and Bruce Rauner has done lasting damage to local communities and to our education system through manufactured crises and three years of instability.
The same uncertainty that Rauner has brought to the jobs front has caused a loss of faith in our institutions of higher learning. There have been double digit declines in enrollment at several Illinois universities and layoffs of faculty and staff. Five of our universities have fallen into junk credit status. Students, families, and school administrators have reported that the budget crisis and Rauner’s clear indifference toward public universities have shaken people’s confidence in our state’s commitment to higher education. As a result, tens of thousands of students have left the state, and many will never return.
Our universities prepare students for success and provide local businesses with a highly-qualified workforce. These students are our future economic resources, and frankly, they’re our children. When we lose them to other states, we lose the opportunity for a brighter future. To keep our students in Illinois, we must fully invest in opportunities for low-income and middle-income families to attend our universities by funding MAP grants and making college more affordable. We need to lower the cost of college and invest in our colleges and universities. We should be promoting opportunities to allow our home-grown talent to stay and thrive in Illinois.
Keeping college students in Illinois also requires ensuring there are job opportunities for them after graduation, and under Bruce Rauner, job growth has been anemic. I’m the only candidate in this race that has created thousands of private sector jobs. I have proposed a five-point plan to create jobs throughout Illinois. Among other things, this plan will empower community colleges as hubs of economic growth, expand apprenticeship programs, grow small business incubators, and invest in renewable energy cooperatives. Having spent decades creating jobs, including through public-private partnerships and in my own businesses, I know the important difference between running a business and running government. I will bring that experience to the governorship to grow jobs across Illinois.
TOPIC: University oversight
Failed or fired public university presidents have received big payouts. Do you have any plans to consolidate or otherwise reorganize governance of the state’s university system?
Pritzker: Consolidating our universities is something you would only do if you believe the damage done by Bruce Rauner is permanent. I do not. Efficiency in the use of taxpayer dollars is important, but I oppose consolidating our state’s university system and believe we need to reinvest in it and in Illinois students. Keeping talent in state requires that we offer quality higher education opportunities for people in the communities where they live. Our regional universities make this a reality in Illinois.
To rebuild our higher education infrastructure from Rauner’s manufactured budget crisis, we must commit to investing in students and faculty across our state.
TOPIC: Clean air regulations
The Rauner administration has proposed scrapping limits on the rate of air pollution from a fleet of eight coal plants in central and southern Illinois owned by Dynegy Inc. Instead, the state would impose annual caps on sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emitted by the fleet. Do you support this softening of emissions standards? If not, are you concerned coal plants could be closed and union workers could lose their jobs? Also, how would you support the adoption of clean energy, such as wind and solar, and energy conservation?
Pritzker: Rauner’s proposed softening of emission standards is indicative of a governor who has failed to protect our environment and refuses to stand up to Donald Trump. As governor, I will stand on the side of science and reason and not scrap limits on pollution. I plan to bring labor and environmental groups to the table to make real progress on clean air regulations and protect working families as their communities transition toward a clean energy economy. We need to make sure that our green energy future is one that works for everyone.
I support Illinois joining the U.S. Climate Alliance to live up to the goals of the Paris Climate Accord. I also support doubling down on our commitment to energy efficiency. I plan to take many steps to set us on a path to 100% clean energy, such as increasing the percentage of the Renewable Portfolio Standard to move beyond 25% by 2025, making Illinois a hub of battery technology development, and holding utility companies accountable for implementation of energy efficiency programs under the Future Energy Jobs Act. I was one of the earliest supporters of the Clean Energy Trust, which promotes job creation and entrepreneurship in the clean energy industry, and I’m a strong believer in clean energy as a job creator.
I will be a partner to the communities who will be most impacted by the transition away from fossil fuels. I have offered real solutions, and my economic vision for Illinois centers on job creation and making key investments in infrastructure, new business creation, higher education, vocational training, our agricultural economy, and manufacturing. Further, I will always stand with Illinois workers. In Springfield, I will protect their rights and will fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour. I will also protect pensions and healthcare for Illinois workers. These are all policies that will benefit transitioning communities.
TOPIC: School funding
Under the state’s new school-funding model, Illinois will need $6.2 billion more to fully fund K-12 schools. Will you commit to full funding? Where will you get the money?
Pritzker: It’s time for Illinois to provide a quality education for every child, regardless of their zip code. I’ve spent decades trying to expand funding of educational opportunities for our nation’s most at-risk children, and I will continue that work as governor. I’m committed to moving the state toward fully funding our education system, and I will work to pass a progressive income tax for precisely that purpose.
TOPIC: Wage equality
What is your position on the vetoed Illinois Wage Equity Act?
Pritzker: I support barring employers from requesting wage history during the hiring process. Overall, we need to make every effort to bring wage equity for women. I believe that should also include Illinois becoming the 37th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment. Women should earn equal pay for equal work. Period.
TOPIC: Roads and bridges
How do you plan to address Illinois’ huge backlog of infrastructure construction and repair needs, including for roads, bridges, waterways and mass transit? Do you support an increased gas tax — and/or other taxes and fees — to finance infrastructure improvements, including public transit?
Pritzker: I have released a five-point plan to create jobs throughout Illinois that includes a 21st Century Capital Bill to invest in infrastructure, including broadband internet for all. I will support and enforce Illinois’ prevailing wage law as we employ Illinoisans on construction projects to upgrade our roads, rail, and water networks, build up our high-speed broadband, and upgrade our lead service lines.
I will also work with our federal elected officials of both parties to encourage passage of a federal infrastructure bill to bring much needed federal dollars to Illinois. Major transportation projects that have waited far too long should be our first priorities.
TOPIC: Displaced workers
Jobs in Illinois are being lost to high-tech automation and artificial intelligence. It won’t even be long before cars drive themselves. Meanwhile, many other jobs, notably in the retail sector, are being lost to online alternatives. Do you have a plan to help guide displaced workers into new careers?
Pritzker: We must ensure that working families displaced by our changing economy are guided into new careers. To achieve that goal, we must commit to creating training opportunities, empowering community colleges as hubs of economic growth, workforce training, and life-long learning, expanding youth apprenticeship programs, and investing in manufacturing incubators like mHUB across the state that allow local manufacturers, academic researchers, and entrepreneurs to innovate, create jobs, and meet workforce demands. We need to prepare our workforce for industries that will likely be part of the new economy, including training in logistics services, coding, and robotics. As governor, I will help build the workforce of tomorrow with skilled workers across our state.
I have released a five-point plan to create jobs throughout Illinois that includes investing in building infrastructure including broadband everywhere, supporting small businesses through technical assistance and mentorship, investing in higher education, nurturing our agriculture economy, and jumpstarting manufacturing.
TOPIC: Manufacturing jobs
Since the recession ended in 2009, neighboring states have added tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs while Illinois has not. What will you do to spur Illinois manufacturing?
Pritzker: Part of my five-point plan to create jobs throughout Illinois includes jumpstarting manufacturing. I will support Illinois’ growing manufacturing export industry through infrastructure upgrades to the roads, rails, bridges, and waterways that transport these goods. I will nurture advanced manufacturing by extending quality, high-speed internet access to rural communities across the state. I will support manufacturers in securing access to capital and creating training opportunities to meet their unique needs.
Manufacturing employs 10 percent of the state’s workforce and deserves continued support. I will foster the growth of manufacturing incubators like mHUB across the state and allow local manufacturers, academic researchers, and entrepreneurs to innovate, create jobs, and meet workforce demands.
TOPIC: Election funding
Record amounts of money are pouring into top judicial races in Illinois and across the country. Is this a problem? Do you favor the public financing of judicial races?
Pritzker: We need comprehensive campaign finance reform in Illinois, and as governor, I will work with stakeholders to change the system and put limits in place. Public financing of judicial races is an important potential component of any comprehensive reform package. The judicial branch must maintain independence from political and special interests.
TOPIC: Opioid crisis
What role does a governor’s power to commute sentences play in the overall effort to improve the quality of criminal justice in Illinois? Do you believe sentencing may have been overly harsh — or not tough enough — during the earlier years of the so-called “war on drugs.” And we now face a renewed war on drugs — this time opioids. Is the greatly increased use of opioids a criminal crisis or public health crisis?
Pritzker: Addiction is a public health issue that cannot and should not be addressed through criminal sentencing. Past attempts to address this public health issue through the criminal justice system were misguided. To help people with addictions start down the road to recovery, we must recognize the important link between mental health and substance abuse and then invest in treatment of both — not in incarceration. The recent increased use of opioids is a public health crisis, and it must be treated as such. Incarcerating Illinoisans who are addicted to opioids is more expensive and less effective than providing medical treatment. We need a governor who will recognize this emergency and prioritize addressing it.
To address the opioid crisis, I have a plan that focuses on six key priorities: enhancing youth mental health and substance use disorder prevention, reducing the risks of prescription opioids, removing barriers to mental health and substance use disorder treatment and recovery, working with the criminal justice system to prioritize treatment over incarceration, ensuring health insurance companies cover addiction treatment fairly, and leveraging federal funding opportunities to fight the opioid epidemic locally.
TOPIC: A model gov
Which past governor of Illinois do you most admire and why? Which governor from any state would you most like to emulate?
Pritzker: One current governor whose tenure provides ideas and encouragement for me is Governor Mark Dayton of Minnesota. He worked across the aisle to balance the budget, create jobs, enact a more progressive income tax and a higher minimum wage, and he did it while upholding progressive, Democratic values.
Illinois faces some enormous and unique challenges after the damage done by Bruce Rauner. As governor, I’m committed to learning from what hasn’t worked and what has, building on best practices, drawing lessons from leaders across our state and country, and bringing people together to move our state forward. We need to think big, innovate, and come together to get things done in our state again, and I believe I have the record, vision, and leadership that Illinois needs.