During the opening of a campaign office in Austin on Sept. 2, Illinois gubernatorial candidate and billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker — who’s widely considered to be the frontrunner in the Democratic primary race — explained what he said is the key to lower property taxes in already heavily taxed municipalities like Oak Park. He also laid out a range of proposals that he promised to push if elected. 

The main reason for high property taxes, Pritzker said, was the state’s chronically underfunded public schools. 

“The biggest challenge is that the state of Illinois only puts up about a quarter of the money for school funding all across the state,” Pritzker said. “So roughly three-quarters of that comes from local property taxes. A little, tiny bit comes from the federal government.

“In an average state in the country, about half of the money [for public education] comes from the state and half from local property taxes. Illinois has consistently been underfunding its schools.”

Pritzker — who has been endorsed by Aldermen Chris Taliaferro (29th), Emma Mitts (37th), and state Rep. Camille Y. Lilly (78th) — said that, if elected, he’ll support legislation that would require the state to increase its school funding levels as a primary means of alleviating the property tax burden for Illinois residents. 

The gubernatorial candidate also blasted Gov. Bruce Rauner’s performance, drawing a sharp contrast between their governing philosophies.

“Government is not a business. Government is not run like a business. We need a governor who wakes up every day thinking about investing in people,” Pritzker said. 

“There are people who have suffered because Bruce Rauner, for 736 days, wouldn’t pass a budget; wouldn’t even introduce a budget,” he added. “You know what’s happened to social services in our state. Agencies have closed, mental health facilities have closed — the things that I’ve cared about my whole life are under siege.”

Pritzker was accompanied by his running mate, state Rep. Julianna Stratton (D-5th), who defeated Democrat Kenneth Dunkin last year in a primary race that was widely considered to be a proxy battle between Illinois Speaker of the House Michael Madigan, who supported Stratton, and Rauner, who supported Dunkin. 

During the Sept. 2 campaign stop, Pritzker and Stratton laid out a range of measures they said would put the state back on more stable footing. Those measures included legalizing, and taxing, cannabis — which Pritzker said could bring in an estimated $350 million to $700 million in new revenue. 

Pritzker wrapped the legalization effort in a more comprehensive urban agriculture program that he said would include reforming the criminal justice system.

“We need criminal justice reform,” he said. “The people who end up going to jail and prison are not the kids who come from the North Shore. You know it’s a racial issue. We’ve got to bring equity back; that’s why we have to legalize marijuana. To me, criminal justice reform is critical and legalizing marijuana is part of it.” 

The candidates also proposed implementing a small business loan fund for entrepreneurs and passing measures enacting universal preschool and a public option for the state’s healthcare system.

“We have to preserve and expand healthcare,” Pritzker said. “We need a public option … that allows people in the middle class to get a cheaper deal on their premiums for healthcare, and those who can’t otherwise afford those premiums can buy in at a lower cost.”

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