Jim Dey | Pritzker has no silver tongue, but it doesn’t matter

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J.B. Pritzker — Illinois’ governor in waiting, if the public opinion polls are correct — loves to talk about all the things he’s going to do with the increased revenues from the state income tax increases he plans to pass into law.

There’ll be more money for all the social programs he supports. People will enjoy a state version of the federal Obamacare program, and there will be lots more spending on pre-K and K-12 public schools as well as public universities.

Indeed, there will be so much money coming in from his proposed tax increases, the Democratic candidate insists, that there will be plenty left over. Pritzker promises that a “vast majority” of middle-class earners and those who aspire to move up from poverty to join the middle class will get a state income tax cut.

What he doesn’t want to talk about is who — beyond super-wealthy people like himself and Republican incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner — will pay more.

Pritzker won’t talk about the higher tax rate he wants when he urges the General Assembly to increase the current 4.95 percent flat rate. Neither will he discuss the rates he’d like to see when, and if, Illinois voters pass in 2020 his proposed state constitutional amendment replacing the current flat-tax mandate with a progressive income tax.

Pritzker has been dodging that issue for weeks now, contending that he can only talk specifics after he’s sworn in as governor and meets with Democratic legislative leaders like House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.

This week, Pritzker put another touchy subject off limits. Reporters, noting that Pritzker has promised tax cuts for the “vast majority” of middle-income families in Illinois, asked the candidate to explain what he means by middle-income.

In other words, what income categories constitute middle-income — $40,000 for a single person, $100,000 for a couple, $250,000 for a family of four? Just who is going to get the tax cut Pritzker promises? More important, who is going to get whacked by the Pritzker tax plan?

That subject came up this week at a Chicago Sun-Times debate between Pritzker and Rauner.

Rauner defined a middle-class income as between $50,000 and $200,000 for a “family of three in Chicagoland.” Pritzker, according to media reports, “dodged the question.”

After the debate, however, Pritzker was approached by reporters who asked the same question.

It set off this tragi-comic exchange between reporters seeking an answer and a candidate responding to, but not answering, a question.

First, Pritzker answered a question that wasn’t answered. He misinterpreted, almost certainly on purpose, the question as one about the proposed progressive rates he won’t discuss instead of what it really was — a legitimate inquiry about his personal opinion on the parameters of a middle-class income, something else he won’t discuss.

Reporter: Why can’t you answer the question about middle-class income? What do you believe middle-class income is?

Pritzker: Well, again, I’ve told you that it’s important that we negotiate this with the people’s representatives …

Reporter: No, no, no. (I’m) Not asking about the graduated … (tax rates).

Pritzker persisted in his intentional misinterpretation of the question.

Pritzker: It doesn’t matter.

Reporter: What does someone make who is middle …

Pritzker: But, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is that we’re going to have to negotiate this with the Legislature, and it’s going to have to go to a referendum of the people of Illinois.

The reporter, trying to straighten out the subject of the question, then pointed out Rauner’s definition of a middle-class income and again asked Pritzker for his.

Reporter: Governor said $50,000-$200,000 …

Pritzker aide: Thank you!

The words “thank you” by a Pritzker aide were intended to signal the questioning of Pritzker was over. But reporters ignored the aide, prompting Pritzker to attempt to end the questioning with his own decree that the session was over.

Reporter: What does someone make who is middle class?

Pritzker: Thank you very much.

Reporter: What does someone make who is middle class?

Pritzker: Well, we talked a little bit about that today.

Reporter: You didn’t answer it.

Pritzker: Thank you.

Reporter: Why is that difficult?

If one thing is clear about this election — beyond the polling data that indicates an easy win for Pritzker — it’s that the Democratic candidate will not fold under questioning.

From his perspective, it’s easy to understand. He views the election as all but over; he’s in like Flynn. Answering tough questions can only complicate his ascension to the throne.

How safe is he? So safe that being implicated in a $330,000 property-tax fraud scheme, so far at least, hasn’t tarnished his image in the eyes of the voters. He doesn’t want to and, for the most part, won’t talk about that either.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or by phone at 217-3531-5369.

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October 11, 2018 at 07:14AM

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