Billionaire businessman and philanthropist J.B. Pritzker says he wants to be Illinois’ next governor to protect the social and economic issues he believes are important to the state.
“I spent my life fighting for social and economic justice,” Pritzker said Thursday on Morning Shift. “It’s something I believe in strongly and I have been involved in so many big things across the state of Illinois.”
Pritzker, who is one of six candidates seeking the Democratic nomination in the March 20 primary, joined Morning Shift to answer listener questions, which ranged from the state’s pension problem to gun control.
Here are some interview highlights.
On helping working families
J.B. Pritzker: Like nobody else in this race, I’ve done more and bigger things for working families across the state. And in fact, thousands and thousands of jobs I’ve created as a result of founding 1871, the nonprofit small business incubator in Chicago. Hundreds of companies were created out of that. I’ve also helped hundreds of thousands of kids get school breakfast, quality preschool, and quality child care. I led the building of the Illinois Holocaust Museum, which is teaching 60,000 kids every single year to fight bigotry and hatred and intolerance.
Those big things are important to point out because we have so many big things we have to do in the state. The methodology for getting them done, of course, is providing leadership and vision, which is what I did, and bringing people together — even people that you disagree with.
On gun control measures under consideration in the Illinois Capitol that would, among other things, raise the age to buy assault rifles from 18 to 21
Pritzker: There’s no doubt about it: it is a first step, but there is more that we can do. Personally, I would ban assault weapons and not just raise the age people can buy them at. And we need to stop the illegal guns coming into Illinois from other states.
There are three stores in particular in Indiana that people go to, so we know the roads that people are traveling on when they leave Illinois and come back over the border after. I think we need a regional compact between the states so that we can together figure out a solution for tracking people who are going over the border and coming back.
And we’ve got to fund a budget in the state that pays for mental health services that we need, the homeless services that we need, the health services that we need, the substance abuse services that’s needed in order to help stem the tide of gun violence. People are losing hope, and when they lose hope, they have their last shred of connection with civilized society taken away.
On pension benefits
Pritzker: I believe that we have to stand up and pay the pensions that are owed to people. Teachers who take a job are not overpaid. They get promised a salary, they get promised a pension, and the state or the municipality owes that pension to them. We can afford to pay pensions, and what Gov. Rauner is missing is formulas and methodologies for doing it. Let me give you an example: If we raise the payments that we pay into the system now and level them out over years in a new amortization schedule, we can budget in the state to pay for them.
There are a number of ways to provide that revenue. One of them is a progressive income tax. Another one is legalizing marijuana and taxing it. Another one is growing jobs in the state. And we can step up those payments earlier to level out the payments going into the future.
On helping the whole state
Pritzker: Wherever I go in the state, there really are three major issues that everyone talks about: jobs, education, and health care. I’ve learned that we need to jumpstart the economy in central and southern Illinois, just like we need to create jobs in Chicago and the collar counties. We start with infrastructure: broadband internet everywhere in the state and a major infrastructure bill — for the state of Illinois, federally, or both.
Illinois is the supply chain hub of the nation, and if we don’t maintain our roads, bridges, waterways, and airports, we won’t be able to continue to have the kind of jobs that we are attracting in the logistics field.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity. Click the “play” button to listen to the entire segment.
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.