The centerpiece of J.B. Pritzker's campaign for Illinois governor is helping the middle class raise its standard of living by putting more cash into its pockets.
The billionaire Democrat spent almost 40 minutes in a phone interview with the Northwest Herald's Editorial Board on Friday talking about the path he believes will take him there.
Pritzker touched on the idea of a graduated income tax system that would raise taxes for rich people such as him and his Republican opponent, incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner. As it stands, he said, people in the middle class pay more income tax than they should.
"It's not fair," Pritzker said. "We should make it easier for middle-class families."
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 in the race, although Rauner is a multimillionaire who has put more than $50 million into his own campaign.
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.
The Democrat 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.
If he wins the election, Pritzker said, the majority of tax-paying people will get a tax break, and the wealthiest people in the state will pay more.
Pritzker's campaign has lacked details regarding his tax plan. The Democrat said it couldn't be any worse than the current system that is driving Illinois residents to flee the state for more affordable living.
"We already have people choosing to leave, and we have this flat tax system," Pritzker said.
The candidate said the state must focus on "kitchen table issues" – struggles that many households navigate every day, including the cost of health care and higher education. Both must be lowered, Pritzker said, because both are sources of unmanageable debt.
Pritzker said school funding must be stabilized to allow public universities to recruit students that don't have to worry about whether their scholarship money will dry up. The funding problem and high tuition costs are powerful drivers of outmigration to states that better manage money flowing to schools.
A proponent of marijuana legalization, Pritzker said the move would be a great one with the right regulatory system that allows the state to create jobs and reform the criminal justice system that for so long has punished marijuana use.
Pritzker said he also would consider legalized sports betting if an equally strong regulatory system were in place.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.