While crime has dominated debate in the gubernatorial election, there’s plenty to parse in the economic policies of Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey and Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
Both have financial bona fides. Chicagoan Pritzker is an heir to the Hyatt hotel chain, and a former entrepreneur and businessman. Bailey runs a farm in downstate Xenia along with a trucking and excavation business.
Here’s an overview of some key business issues in the Nov. 8 race.
It’s been three years since Democrats under Pritzker’s leadership raised the gas tax to fund a $45 billion “Rebuild Illinois” capital program. Bailey objected and typically votes “no” on state budgets even during GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner’s tenure.
In 2019 and 2020, Pritzker pushed hard for a graduated income tax in a referendum proposal that ultimately failed. He still supports the idea.
“Wealthy people should pay a higher rate than people who are nurses or police officers or who are working at local pharmacies and small businesses,” Pritzker said at an Illinois Associated Press Media Editors forum Sept. 30.
Republicans including Bailey and anti-tax organizations opposed the concept arguing it was a ploy to expand state government.
“It discourages the government to rein in spending,” Bailey said in 2020. “Rather than continue to grow government, we need to live and spend within our means.”
This year amid soaring gas prices and inflation, Pritzker and Democratic lawmakers suspended the state’s 1% sales tax on groceries through June 30, 2023, and delayed an increase in the motor fuel tax through January 2023.
“In challenging times like these, it’s more important than ever to have a government whose first focus is on working families and those who are struggling,” Pritzker said in his February budget speech.
“Everyone is feeling the crunch of rising prices for goods and services,” he said. The one-year gas tax freeze “will bring immediate relief at the gas pump and still allow us to upgrade our infrastructure.”
In a Daily Herald interview in June, Bailey called suspending the grocery tax an “election-year gimmick. Why not just make the 1% tax go away?” he asked. The senator also noted, “a lot of people don’t realize gas is double-taxed.
“You have the price of gas, and the gas tax and then you have the sales tax (on gas). Let’s cut the sales tax in half, even for a time, and that would give absolute immediate relief.”
If elected, Bailey has promised he will “fully reopen the economy,” attract new businesses to Illinois and spur job creation.
“The solution for the state is to get Illinois growing again,” Bailey said at the IAPME forum. “Give people a reason to move back here. Give industry, give business a reason to move back here -- but they’re not going to come because they don’t feel safe. One-third of the Magnificent Mile stands empty.
“They’re not going to come because taxes and regulations are too high. They’re not going to come because the education system is decimated.”
According to a Building Owners and Managers Association of Chicago member survey, downtown occupancy was at 42% in September compared to 35% this spring.
Pritzker spokeswoman Natalie Edelstein said last week the Rebuild Illinois program is “creating and supporting hundreds of thousands of good-paying jobs.”
The governor “raised the minimum wage to a living wage, provided millions of Illinoisans relief from high interest on consumer debt, created a business loan fund to expand opportunities for women and minority business owners, and created a business apprenticeship tax credit,” Edelstein said.
“He cut taxes for 400,000 small businesses, launched the Illinois Works Jobs Program, created new high-paying technology and construction jobs with a data center tax incentive program and attracted $1 billion in private and public investments in research centers.”
At the IAPME forum, Pritzker was asked to square warnings of dire consequences if the income tax referendum failed with Illinois’ revenues topping $50 billion for the first time.
“We cut $700 million during the toughest time, during COVID, to make sure we were allocating dollars to health care and to the needs of people suffering from COVID-19 and taking it away from other parts of government, cutting inefficiency in government,” Pritzker said.
“We eliminated the corporate tax loop holes we had, $700 million worth, which helped us balance the budget. When we legalized cannabis it brought hundreds of millions of more dollars into state government.”
Bailey has pledged to “bring accountability and transparency to the budget process, and I will not sign a budget that is crafted in secret in the dead of the night.
“It is time to bring sunshine and transparency to the budget process. Since the beginning of this campaign, I have stated I would demand a zero-based budget process where every penny is accounted for so we can prioritize spending,” he said in a Daily Herald questionnaire,
Regarding fixing public employee pension systems, Bailey thinks that “we must bring workers and those focused on solving problems, saving pensions long-term, and being respectful of promises made to workers and taxpayers to the table. I support no longer kicking the can down the road and ensuring lawmakers make required payments.
Also, “we must also move to 401(k) style plans for all new hires and have honest conversations with state workers to gain reasonable adjustments to cost of living allocation and more participation in health insurance. I would also look into supporting more buyout plans that current workers support to help alleviate future debt,” he said in answer to a Daily Herald questionnaire.
Pritzker responded that “we’ve fully funded General Fund pension contributions and appropriated $300 million above the required pension contribution in fiscal year 2023 to reduce future pension liabilities by more than $1 billion.
“I expanded the discounted buyout program for pensioners that has already reduced net pension liabilities by $1.4 billion. And after nearly 75 years of governors and General Assemblies attempting to do it, in 2019 I succeeded at passing the law consolidating nearly 650 downstate and suburban first responders pension systems, which is projected to save taxpayers billions of dollars.”