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Morning Shift

Billionaire J.B. Pritzker On Running For Governor, Property Taxes, And Blagojevich Tapes

J.B. Pritzker has seen both good and bad news for his campaign since announcing his run for governor in April.

The bad news came when he was forced to defend his past conversations with then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich, which came to light in a Chicago Tribune investigation. On wiretapped calls that the paper made public, Pritzker asked Blagojevich to consider appointing him to the position of state treasurer and later suggested that his powerful friends in the business community could float the idea independently.

A week later, some very good news: The state’s largest union organization, the AFL-CIO, made an early endorsement of Pritzker, giving his candidacy more support than any of his Democratic opponents. Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia talks to Pritzker about why he wants to be governor.

Below are some interview highlights.

On Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed property tax freeze

J.B. Pritzker: The governor’s proposal is, frankly, just a political gimmick. The idea that you can have a property tax freeze and not address the fundamental question, which is that we need state funding for education to increase. Remember, that’s why property taxes are so high across the state, is that the state of Illinois provides only 26 percent of funding for schools in Illinois.

Tony Sarabia: Which is way below the constitutional mandate, that the state is supposed to provide the bulk of that. How would you reach that constitutional mandate? What would you do?

Pritzker: Well we need to start with a progressive income tax in this state. People who can afford to pay should be the first ones to step up to the plate. We shouldn’t be putting the burden upon working families and middle class families and people striving to get to the middle class before we ask people who can afford to pay to step up to the plate. So a progressive income tax is the beginning of the answer.

We also need to get — as has been passed by the House and the Senate — a school funding formula change, so the schools who have been left behind actually get a reasonable amount, per pupil, across the state.

On Blagojevich tapes

Pritzker: Remember the day on which this was leaked. This was the last day of the legislative session in which Gov. Rauner still had not gotten a budget passed, and so at the close of the day, with nothing to talk about, this is what they threw out there.

Sarabia: We should say that the Tribune reporter told us that this did not come from the Rauner campaign.

Pritzker: He said it didn’t come from Bruce Rauner. He didn’t say it didn’t come from the GOP. He didn’t say it didn’t come from the Koch brothers network. So remember, they’re all in league with one another. So he only excluded Bruce Rauner. I don’t think Bruce Rauner did pick up the phone and call them.

Look, this is a political hit. It’s because they have nothing to talk about. So for the next year and a half, they’re simply going to take shots at Democrats, and specifically at me, because they’re afraid. And they know that I’m standing up for working families and I’m the person who has the greatest ability to take him on and beat him in the general election. And he needs to go.

Sarabia: Do you regret having those conversations with [Blagojevich]?

Pritzker: I regret the tone of some of that conversation. But seeking to do public service I think is a reasonable, rational thing to do for somebody like me, who has over many years proven that’s something important to me.

Remember, my family — my parents in particular, and my mother — were social justice advocates. So my entire life, beginning as a kid, I’ve been focused on how to make people’s lives better. In some ways, I’ve been doing that in the private sector. I’ve also served in the public sector, running the human rights commission, and in other ways, working with public officials to try to make people’s lives better.

So I don’t think that’s unusual at all.

On problems at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services

Pritzker: This governor … I think he has no idea how to run the state. The executive functions of the state have not been run well, and DCFS is just a good example of his failures.  

So here, you had the death of child very recently, and to me, this is very much related to the idea that they’re incentivizing people to close case files, maybe before they’re worthing of being closed, so that these kids get left behind and not tracked by DCFS properly. I mean, this is a real problem.

On AFL-CIO endorsement

Pritzker: I have been working for many years, standing next to these many labor union members, fighting for basic Democratic, progressive values; the things that are really important, like raising wages — a $15 minimum wage for example. Making sure that we’re attracting jobs so that people can get a better wage in this state.

And so when I stand with the labor movement and they stand with me, it’s because they know that I will get these things done for them, that we’ll be able to actually grow the state, create more jobs, that I’ll fight hard against right to work legislation.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire interview.

Editor’s note: Chicago Public Media receives philanthropic support from The Pritzker Foundation. J.B. Pritzker, who is campaigning for governor in the Democratic Primary, is not involved with the foundation and does not contribute to it.

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