By JOHN O’CONNOR
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 including 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 northwest 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, according to the 2020 Census. In a statement, Rabine, who has also made an issue of gun crimes, called on voters to "reject him and his radical agenda that is driving our state into unacceptable insolvency and violence.”
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 backlog, $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 participation, but he said vaccination 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/apoconnor
Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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July 20, 2021 at 03:36PM