J.B. Pritzker, the multibillionaire whose actions over the past year have suggested he may be eyeing a run for president, on Monday was sworn in as Illinois governor for the second time, an occasion he used to issue bold proposals for universal preschool and free college tuition.
Catapulting off the financial successes of his first term — including the conversion of mounds of state debt into a $3.7 billion surplus, the Democrat declared, ‘It’s time for Illinois to lead.’ He called his plans ‘as ambitious and bold as our people are, thinking not only about the next four years, but about the next 40.’
‘I propose we go all in for our children and make preschool available to every family throughout the state,’ Pritzker said. ‘It’s also our obligation to make college more affordable by removing financial barriers. … Let’s focus on making tuition free for every working-class family.’
He did not elaborate on the proposals, which also include child care options that would allow parents to work or go to school. An email seeking details was sent to a spokesperson.
Pritzker, who turns 58 this month, is the first Illinois governor to start a second four-year term since 2007, when Democrat Rod Blagojevich took the oath. Blagojevich was impeached and removed from office in 2009 and later went to federal prison for political corruption. No governor has served two full terms since Jim Edgar left Springfield in 1999.
During his reelection campaign, Pritzker leaned on his record of whittling debt, credit-rating agency upgrades and bolstering the state’s ‘rainy day’ fund. He defeated Republican state Sen. Darren Bailey with 55% of the vote.
Bailey was one who took notice of Pritzker’s possible look beyond the Land of Lincoln, beseeching the governor in two televised debates to join him in signing a pledge to serve a full term if elected. He was reacting to Pritzker’s summertime trip to the early presidential primary state of New Hampshire and his raising millions of dollars for Democrats nationwide. Pritzker has said he has no plans to run and supports President Joe Biden for reelection.
But in his Election Day victory speech, the second-term governor appealed to a broad constituency, barely mentioning Illinois while indirectly lambasting former GOP President Donald Trump, who will seek a second term in 2024. The second-term governor criticized Republicans for failing to ‘treat the disease’and letting it fester into ‘insurrectionists tearing down the doors of the U.S. Capitol.’
Pritzker, an equity investor and philanthropist whose family founded the Hyatt Hotel chain, is the nation’s 310th richest person, with a net worth of $3.6 billion, according to Forbes magazine.
In 2018, the son and nephew of the Hyatt hotel chain’s founders was swept into office largely on voter dissatisfaction with then-GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, whom they blamed for a two-year budget stalemate with Legislative Democrats that stalled state services and flooded account books with red ink.
Pritzker has overseen paying down a mountain of debt, including $17 billion in overdue bills to vendors at one point. He steered the state through a rocky bout with the deadly new coronavirus, and signed laws to eventually eliminate carbon-generating power production and increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2025. And despite an unsteady economy in the last year, he boasted of a fourth consecutive balanced budget: This fiscal year will end with a virtually unprecedented $3.7 billion surplus.