Billionaire investor J.B. Pritzker, heir to the Hyatt Hotels Corp fortune, formally entered a growing Democratic field for Illinois governor on Thursday, labeling Republican Bruce Rauner a “failure” as the state’s chief executive.
Pritzker’s bid pits him against Chicago businessman Chris Kennedy, son of the late U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy, and three other Democratic candidates in the party’s March 20, 2018 primary.
“Governor Bruce Rauner is a failure. He promised a turnaround and all we got was a runaround,” Pritzker told supporters at a Chicago Park District gymnasium on the city’s crime-prone southside.
Illinois, the country’s fifth-largest state, is immersed in one of the most politically turbulent eras in its 199-year history.
Rauner has feuded with Democrats, who control the state legislature, over his insistence that a state budget be tied to a list of his policy demands that would weaken unions, impose legislative term limits, freeze property taxes and impose new rules on injured workers seeking compensation from their employers.
With House Speaker Michael Madigan and fellow Democrats blocking that agenda, Illinois has been without a complete budget during Rauner’s first two years in office. The fiscal futility has left Illinois – the only state ever to go 22 months without a budget – with nearly $13 billion of unpaid bills as of Wednesday.
“We’ve got to start by taxing the millionaires and billionaires first. We’re not going to middle-class families until we get people to pay their fair share,” Pritzker told reporters after his announcement.
Pritzker, the 52-year-old brother of former U.S. Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker, is positioned as the wealthiest candidate in the race so far, with a net worth estimated by Forbes at $3.4 billion.
Rauner, a former private equity investor, does not appear on the Forbes list, but enters a re-election bid with plentiful resources of his own.
Last November, the governor released his 2015 tax returns that showed he and his wife had more than $188 million in taxable income. A month later, he steered $50 million in personal funds into his campaign account, state records show.
The state Republican Party attacked Pritzker on Thursday by linking him to the long-serving Democratic House speaker and insisting Pritzker favored a reinstatement of the state’s 5 percent individual income tax.
In January 2015, the state income tax dropped to 3.75 percent after a temporary 2011 tax increase lapsed.
Photo: Former U.S. President Bill Clinton (R) greets J.B. Pritzker, managing partner of The Pritzker Group, at the Clinton Global Initiative America meeting in Chicago, Illinois, June 13, 2013. Reuters/Jim Young