Gubernatorial candidate pushes for progressive tax in visit to UI

Gubernatorial candidate pushes for progressive tax in visit to UI

CHAMPAIGN — Billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker on Monday called for a progressive income tax in Illinois and said that one of his goals as governor would be to ensure that every person who wants a public higher education would get it.

The Democratic candidate for governor toured EnterpriseWorks, the start-up technology innovation campus at the University of Illinois. Pritzker, a member of the family that owns the Hyatt hotels chain, founded 1871, a Chicago-based nonprofit that helps establish small tech companies.

During his tour Monday, Pritzker told reporters that he favors getting rid of Illinois' flat income-tax rate.

"When I become governor, the first question we ought to ask is: Who should pay the bulk of whatever it is that we want to pay for? And the answer is that yes, millionaires and billionaires and people who can afford to pay are the ones who should pay more, not people who make 20 and 30 and 40 and $50,000 a year."

Asked if he supported a graduated income tax or the "millionaires tax" proposed by House Speaker Michael Madigan, Pritzker said he wanted a graduated tax.

"We can call it whatever you like," the Chicago Democrat said. "I think a fair tax in this state would be to ask people who can afford to pay to pay more. It shouldn't fall on the middle class or people who are working poor."

Pritzker also said he wanted to work to "make sure that people who are seeking to have a future in higher education have the ability to get it."

"Tuition has gone way up in this state," he said. "It's become harder and harder for middle class families to put their kids through school. College is not affordable in this state when you don't have (Monetary Award Program grants for low-income students) — and we don't fund MAP grants.

"So we've got to step back up to the plate here, and we've got to make sure that people who are seeking to get a degree in higher education have the ability to get it."

He hit Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for two years of budget gridlock, including major budget cuts to higher education.

"Our universities are being decimated under this governor. The professors are leaving because they don't know when the funding is going to be there next year for them to survive," Pritzker said. "Students are choosing to leave the state because they can get more funding by going to another university, the University of Missouri or other places.

"We've got to make sure we can step up and have our kids and our professors stay in Illinois."

Asked if he favors an expansion of MAP or something like the limited free college program proposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Pritzker replied, "As long as every kid who wants to go to college and can't afford it has the ability to, I think that answers the question."

He said that if every young person had the opportunity to go to a public university or obtain vocational training at a community college, "I think we're going to have a much better and more economically productive state."

Pritzker's visit to the UI Research Park was his first public trip to Champaign-Urbana since he began to consider a run for governor. He formally announced his candidacy on April 6.

Monday's visit came on the same day that Pritzker's campaign filed paperwork with the State Board of Elections that showed that he contributed $7 million to his campaign on April 10.

Although that sum dwarfs the fund balances of other Democratic contenders, it's only one-seventh of the $50 million that Rauner put in his campaign fund in December.