SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - November 2022 will be here before you know it. Gov. JB Pritzker has big goals for a possible second term in office.
The Chicago Democrat announced his re-election campaign Monday. Pritzker hopes to pass plans for free college for low-income students, lower costs for childcare, and universal preschool.
Right now, he's reflecting on his two and a half years in office. The governor championed a gradual minimum wage increase, expanded health care, and led the fight for a large capital spending plan. He also praised the General Assembly's work on policies to help Illinois families and improve the financial outlook for Illinois.
But, Pritzker chose to highlight his leadership during the COVID-19 pandemic in his first campaign ad.
"It's important to acknowledge the hard work of the people of Illinois to get past this pandemic," Pritzker said. "We're so much better off today than we were at the beginning of the pandemic when we really knew nothing - knew not how we could get through it. But, we learned along the way and we followed the science."
Governor feels Republicans didn't help
Not everyone agrees with that assessment. Sen. Darren Bailey, former Sen. Paul Schimpf, and businessman Gary Rabine hope they can take Pritzker out of the role. Each of the Republicans criticizes Pritzker's response to the pandemic.
"Billionaires like Pritzker cannot relate to the struggles of working Illinoisans and families," said Bailey. "He doesn't understand the damage his lockdowns did to small businesses, mental health, and working families across the state."
However, the governor says they didn't do anything to help. He noted many of his harshest critics voted against support for small businesses and renters during the pandemic.
"They've been essentially telling people either 'The virus is a hoax' or 'Nah! You don't need to wear a mask. Don't worry about it.' So, I'm just not sure how anybody can trust what they're telling you," Pritzker said.
The governor stressed his party kept Illinoisans safe and healthy.
"We're the ones who followed the science and did the best we could to help people throughout this pandemic," Pritzker said. "We're poised as a state to do much better in terms of our economic growth and job creation than during the pandemic."
Resurgence of COVID-19
Still, Pritzker raised concern over the spread of COVID-19 in downstate communities. He noted Missouri is one of the most challenged states in terms of the virus, and it's spreading over the border.
"We're providing widespread availability of testing and making sure the vaccines are available to people," Pritzker said. "People need to know that if they're going into a crowded area, particularly indoors, they should wear a mask. Just because we've been lucky enough to reduce the number of cases in our state by virtue of the vaccines does not mean that masks are not necessary, especially when we have a rise in COVID cases."
The 56-year-old frequently criticized former governor Bruce Rauner's management of the Legionnaires' outbreak that killed 13 veterans in the Quincy Veterans' Home. But, residents of the LaSalle Veterans' Home died from complications with COVID-19 under Pritzker's watch. That is already a top campaign issue, and Pritzker knows people will use it to their advantage over the next year.
"I grieve for the many families who lost a loved one, especially a senior citizen who was in a nursing home or in a veterans' home, especially our heroes. My father and my grandfather both were naval officers," Pritzker said. "I have a great deal of reverence for anybody who serves their country and defends our country. So, it's important to me to keep our veterans safe and healthy."
Corrective actions following the outbreak
The governor noted COVID-19 had the ability to run rampant once inside any congregate setting. Pritzker said that speed made it harder to mitigate for staff. However, he stressed the administration took action "the minute" he found out about the outbreak. Facility staff had to follow new protocols while state agencies tried to figure out what happened in the first place. Pritzker said transparency was important throughout that process, something he didn't see under Rauner's leadership.
"We made sure that we made corrective actions immediately and held people accountable when we knew that they hadn't lived up to their responsibilities," Pritzker explained. "There were lots of people who got let go that were in senior leadership both at the home and within our veterans' affairs department."
"He failed to protect our veterans and families and failed to help overtaxed Illinoisans," said Schimpf. "In three years JB Pritzker has demonstrated he has neither the vision nor the leadership skills to unite our state."
Unemployment remains another big issue for the Pritzker administration. While the state fully reopened last month, IDES offices are still closed. The governor says that's unfortunately due to many serious threats to employees.
"Literally bomb threats, people threatened with bodily harm who work in those offices," Pritzker explained. "So, we've been working with State Police to make sure that we have a safe way to reopen those offices across the state."
No graduated income tax plan on the horizon
The governor also told the Capitol Bureau he doesn't plan on re-introducing his graduated income tax. However, he wants to lower taxes for the middle class and those striving to get to the middle class and ask the wealthiest Illinoisans to pay a little more.
"Governor Pritzker has raised taxes, increased spending, and signed into law some of the most radical, far-left legislation in the nation," stated Rabine. "When Pritzker didn't get his income tax increase, he raised taxes and regulations at a record pace to dominate the highest taxed citizens in America. All this isn't enough as Pritzker threatens to pursue higher income tax again if elected to a second term."
"If we would pay for education properly in this state, from the state level, we could lower property taxes for everyone in the state," Pritzker said. "But, unfortunately, in years prior, Illinois has dropped the amount of money that the state government is putting into our schools. That of course forces local governments to raise property taxes. We gotta reverse that."
Pritzker said eliminating $655 million of "corporate welfare" helped put more money into education, early childhood education, and childcare. However, Republicans opposed the idea of eliminating the corporate tax incentives as Pritzker agreed to several in 2019.