Billionaire J.B. Pritzker touts goals of bipartisan approach, overhaul of school funding

March 10, 2018 GMT

CRYSTAL LAKE – J.B. Pritzker remembers the days not long ago in Illinois’ history when Democrats worked together with Republicans to get things done.

In a 45-minute interview Friday with the Editorial Board of the Northwest Herald (also owned by Shaw Media, the Daily Chronicle’s parent company), the 53-year-old Democratic candidate for governor spoke about property taxes, McHenry County infrastructure and how he’d work with politicians across the aisle in Springfield.

“I really do want to work with Republicans,” Pritzker said. “I remember the past in Illinois when Republicans and Democrats actually worked together to get things done, and it’s been too long since that’s been done. ... Listening to Republicans is very important. Good ideas can come from anywhere.”

Pritzker’s property tax plan would help in places such as McHenry County, where residents and businesses have fled to places such as Wisconsin to avoid crushing tax bills on homes that are anything but palatial.

“I’m well aware that in McHenry County you have some of the highest property taxes in the country, not just in the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said.

The candidate’s solution, he said, is to change the way the state funds education.

“That really is putting a lot of pressure on property taxes everywhere, not just in McHenry County,” Pritzker said. “We have to change the flat tax system – the regressive system that we’ve got in the state of Illinois of income taxes to a progressive income tax system, but simultaneously, we’ve got to lower local property taxes. I think this collectively will allow us to reduce the burden on middle-class families and those striving to get to the middle class and also increase the amount of funding that we get for K-12 education.”

An heir to the Hyatt hotels fortune, Pritzker recently was ranked by Forbes magazine as the third-wealthiest person in Illinois, with an estimated net worth of about $3.4 billion. That easily makes him the wealthiest person running, although Gov. Bruce Rauner – a multimillionaire who put $50 million into his campaign fund late last year – also has received millions in campaign contributions from Illinois’ richest person, businessman Ken Griffin.

Pritzker talked Friday about the importance of growing jobs and supporting the small-business community, where most jobs come from, he said.

The candidate also commented on much-needed improvements to McHenry County’s existing infrastructure.

“You all have some major infrastructure projects that have been halted, they’ve been proposed, there’s some money that’s gone in, but not enough,” Pritzker said. “We need infrastructure. This is the supply chain hub of the nation – Illinois – and you have the ability here in McHenry County to be a job creator in the supply chain if we do the right things around infrastructure.”

Pritzker pinpointed particular projects, including the widening of Route 47 from two lanes to four lanes and the proposed interchange at Route 23 and Interstate 90.

Pritzker – whose full name is Jay Robert – is the founder of Pritzker Group, a venture capital firm that heavily focuses on the technology sector. He also founded 1871, a Chicago hub for tech startups. He previously served as chairman of the Illinois Human Rights Commission, and he is a vocal advocate for early childhood education, a cause to which he and his wife have donated significant amounts of money.

His sister, Penny Pritzker, served as Commerce secretary under former President Barack Obama.

The primary election is March 20.

• The Associated Press contributed to this report.