GOV. ‘OP­TI­MIST’

Pritzker plans to take state in ‘a very dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion’ after tak­ing oath to­day

Chicago Sun-Times - - FRONT PAGE - BY TINA SFONDELES, PO­LIT­I­CAL RE­PORTER tfonde­[email protected] | @Ti­naS­fon

SPRING­FIELD — After tak­ing the oath of of­fice Mon­day, in­com­ing Demo­cratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he’ll pose — as an “op­ti­mist” — that he’ll work to get rid of hy­per­par­ti­san­ship, bal­ance a bud­get and give the mid­dle class a break.

“Ex­pect me to present a pic­ture of where I be­lieve Illi­nois needs to go, which is in a very dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion than it has been go­ing over the last four years,” Pritzker told the Sun-Times on Sun­day ahead of his in­au­gu­ral speech Mon­day.

Pritzker, Lt. Gov. Ju­liana Strat­ton, as well as the state’s con­sti­tu­tional of­fi­cers will be sworn in Mon­day morn­ing, fol­lowed by a swanky ball on the Illi­nois State Fair­grounds.

Democrats across the state have al­ready of­fered a big wel­come mat to Pritzker, the bil­lion­aire en­tre­pre­neur and phi­lan­thropist who vowed in April 2017 to de­feat Repub­li­can Gov. Bruce Rauner. They were re­lieved to see a self-funded can­di­date with sup­port from unions and Illi­nois’ top Democrats.

Now, Pritzker — who has never held an elected po­si­tion — will have to prove to Illi­noisans that he’ll come through on his cam­paign prom­ises. Will he be the gover­nor to fight his way to a $15 min­i­mum wage de­spite re­sis­tance? Or the one who’ll le­gal­ize mar­i­juana, fix the state’s prop­erty-tax sys­tem and help dig Illi­nois out of the worst fi­nan­cial hole it has ever seen?

He’s at least in place to get some early vic­to­ries, es­pe­cially with a Demo­cratic su­per­ma­jor­ity in both the House and Se­nate. And Pritzker has al­ready seen “good­will” ef­forts. Last week, leg­is­la­tors ap­proved a mea­sure to al­low Pritzker to pay his agency heads 15 per­cent more than Rauner’s ad­min­is­tra­tion. And law­mak­ers also ap­proved a bill to let Pritzker get rid of mem­bers of the Illi­nois Toll­way Board. He’s also ex­pected to be sent a gun dealer li­cens­ing bill aimed at stem­ming the tide of il­le­gal firearms in Chicago. A pro­ce­dural hold that kept it in the Illi­nois Se­nate — to avoid an­other po­ten­tial veto — was re­moved last week.

“You know the pri­or­i­ties that I ran on — mak­ing col­lege af­ford­able for fam­i­lies, bring­ing back vo­ca­tional train­ing, lift­ing up wages, re­tain­ing jobs and low­er­ing the cost of health care and ex­pand­ing it,” Pritzker said. “Those are all things that I’m work­ing on — on day one. You can’t just sort of de­cide, well, we’ll wait two years. That doesn’t mean we’re go­ing to get it all done in one year, and some of the ground­work needs to be laid for some of these things.”

Also on his hefty pri­or­ity list: le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana, rais­ing the min­i­mum wage and ex­pand­ing MAP grants.

Pritzker last week raised some eye­brows when he an­nounced he’d be dou­bling the salaries of 20 of his top staffers out of his own pocket. But he said he did so to “at­tract and keep great tal­ent for the state.” Those get­ting a dou­ble salary will have to pub­licly dis­close their dual in­come, and Pritzker says they did not sign non-dis­clo­sure agree­ments. Pritzker, too, said in many cases the state salaries were low­ered in an ef­fort to not add to the state’s pen­sion bur­den.

Asked if he’d be shelv­ing out per­sonal wealth else­where in state gov­ern­ment, Pritzker said, “I don’t have any plans for that.”

Pritzker and his wife, M.K., kicked off tra­di­tional in­au­gu­ral events in Spring­field on Sun­day, shak­ing hands and pos­ing for pic­tures in the Old State Capi­tol. Stop­ping by the event, Sen. Dick Durbin — who was one of the first and staunch­est sup­port­ers of Pritzker’s cam­paign — of­fered yet an­other stamp of ap­proval, say­ing he ex­pects to have a “close re­la­tion­ship” with the in­com­ing gover­nor.

“That was not the case the last four years,” Durbin said of Rauner.

Durbin said Pritzker has al­ready shown that he’s will­ing to work with the other side of the aisle by ask­ing for­mer Repub­li­can Gov. Jim Edgar to serve on his tran­si­tion team — and by stop­ping by a Repub­li­can fundraiser last week in Spring­field after the Gen­eral Assem­bly in­au­gu­ra­tion.

“Good­ness sakes. Could you imag­ine the for­mer gover­nor walk­ing into a Mike Madi­gan gath­er­ing in the Capi­tol?” Durbin said. “The fact that he’s mak­ing this a bi­par­ti­san ef­fort I think re­as­sures peo­ple across the state he’s re­ally go­ing to do his level best to find bi­par­ti­san so­lu­tions.”

Pritzker will have to work fast once he takes of­fice, with his first bud­get ad­dress on Feb. 20 — just days be­fore the Chicago may­oral elec­tion.

Pritzker said he un­der­stands the im­por­tance of work­ing with Chicago’s next mayor, but he won’t en­dorse, de­spite many close friends in the mix, in­clud­ing Illi­nois Comp­trol­ler Su­sana Men­doza.

“I am fo­cused on hav­ing a good re­la­tion­ship with the next mayor, and so it’s im­por­tant to me to do what hasn’t been done over the last four years,” Pritzker said.

“I’m not in­tend­ing to take a po­si­tion in the elec­tion. And I have a num­ber of friends and peo­ple that I know that are run­ning,” he said. “They have cer­tainly reached out to me and I have the sup­port of a num­ber of them — in fact, I would say most, maybe — dur­ing the elec­tion.”

“YOU KNOW THE PRI­OR­I­TIES THAT I RAN ON — MAK­ING COL­LEGE AF­FORD­ABLE FOR FAM­I­LIES, BRING­ING BACK VO­CA­TIONAL TRAIN­ING, LIFT­ING UP WAGES, RE­TAIN­ING JOBS AND LOW­ER­ING THE COST OF HEALTH CARE AND EX­PAND­ING IT. THOSE ARE ALL THINGS THAT I’M WORK­ING ON — ON DAY ONE.”

J.B. PRITZKER

TINA SFONDELES/SUN-TIMES

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker in Spring­field on Sun­day.

ASH­LEE REZIN/SUN-TIMES FILE

Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker

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