Despite looming scandals, Pritzker focuses on his agenda

Gov. J.B. Pritzker regularly deflects questions about House Speaker Michael Madigan's future by saying he wants to let the investigative process work.

But during an interview with me to mark his one-year anniversary in office, the governor pointed to his reaction after Sen. Tom Cullerton (D-Villa Park) was indicted, now-former Sen. Martin Sandoval's (D-Chicago) Statehouse office was raided and now-former Rep. Luis Arroyo (D-Chicago) was arrested. In every instance, he said, he called on the legislators to step aside or resign.


When there's "clear" evidence of targeting by criminal investigators, the governor said, "that's the point at which folks should step aside."


Pritzker's latest answer, however, is more specific and allows him to set the bar for any showdown with Madigan, who surely seems to be on the federal government's radar screen but for what nobody knows for sure.The governor also claimed that the constant drumbeat of scandal and corruption surrounding Madigan would not damage the prospects for his graduated income tax constitutional amendment referendum this November. One of the arguments the opposition has already used boils down to "Do you trust these Madigan people to do the right thing with the new tax and the new revenue?"


Pritzker said he didn't think the two issues were related, prefacing his remarks by saying "we need to make sure we're passing legislation," on ethics and reform and "rooting out these folks" with investigations.


"I think it's fairly straightforward to people that I believe in a fairer tax system and so do a significant majority of people in the state," Pritzker said. "So I don't think it'll have a deleterious effect in that regard." I also asked Pritzker if he planned to reopen the cannabis legalization law to expand it to other things, like, for instance, home grow licenses for recreational consumers.


"From my perspective," Pritzker said, "we need to let this law settle in. We've got a lot of things we've got to monitor and keep track of to determine what other technical changes may need to take place."

One thing he wants looked at, Pritzker said, is setting up some sort of cash deposit program after reading of a recent burglary at a Chicago cannabis dispensary. Over $100,000 was stolen and police suspect it was an inside job. What to do with all that cash has dogged the industry for years because banks fear a federal government crackdown.


The governor also talked about what he is doing to help downstate in the wake of a report that the region lost almost 120,000 people between 2010 and 2018. The previous decade was very hard on Cook County, which lost over 200,000 residents in that period, but now it's downstate's turn.


Pritzker pointed to $420 million in the 2019 capital bill for high-speed broadband. Matt Schmitt led Minnesota's much-lauded broadband build-out after passing the legislation as a state senator and was recruited by Pritzker to come here. The governor said Notices of Funding Opportunities will be issued within the next six months "so that we can get money out the door to start expanding broadband."

"That's a big thing because you can't create jobs in cities or towns where there isn't high-speed internet," Pritzker said. "It's in every business."


He also said the state will help bring "tele-health" centers to areas with broadband service so that people can obtain video-conferencing health services like counseling and diagnostic care from providers who wouldn't normally live in those areas. "People who have mental health challenges who require therapy, sometimes there aren't qualified therapists in their area, so that's an example of something that really does work; it's got a proven history."


Pritzker also said he was working to recruit jobs to the region and talked about incentives from last year, including the datacenter tax credit pushed by Republicans. "We've created a bunch of incentives for people to come to the state."

"We're going to do more," the governor said. "Downstate revitalization is a very important program for me."

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