Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner has lost a lot in his first term.
"I've lost 22 pounds and most of my hair in this job," Rauner said Friday on a campaign stop in Crystal Lake as he prepares to battle Democrat billionaire J.B. Pritzker for a second term in office.
The incumbent Republican multimillionaire met with the Northwest Herald Editorial Board to talk up a campaign that centers on reforming broken state systems and alleviating property taxes that are forcing Illinois residents to flee for affordable living.
Rauner said the differences between himself and Pritzker could not be more stark.
“Mr. Pritzker is running on a platform of tax hikes and bigger spending,” Rauner said, contending that Pritzker has proposed $11 billion in new programs and a constitutional amendment to change the flat income tax structure to a graduated income tax. "That will lead to a green light on taxing everybody. The middle class will get crushed with higher taxes, and employers will flood out of the state."
The governor said he wants to roll back income taxes over time and reduce property taxes by giving "local control" to voters.
"I want to take away the mandates from Springfield on our schools, on our townships, on our counties, and give local voters ... through the power of a simple referendum process to set their own property tax levy, to decide what local units of government [to] consolidate, to decide how competitive bidding is done at the local level, to decide how contracting is done," Rauner said. "Let each community decide for itself, and we can bring down our property taxes significantly."
Local control has been a hot-button debate in McHenry County. McHenry Township voters will get the chance at the polls in November to decide whether to eliminate the road district. Proponents of local control and consolidation argue it would lead to cost savings, while opponents contend that a cost study should be required before voters can choose.
Rauner attacked Pritzker's character as a man who inherited his wealth. The governor highlighted the story of his own grandparents, who "lived in a double-wide."
The governor called Pritzker a "core participant in the corruption of our state."
Rauner pointed to a Cook County investigator's findings that Pritzker removed toilets to lower the value of a Chicago mansion in a "scheme to defraud" taxpayers to receive more than $330,000 in property tax breaks.
Campaign officials for the billionaire said Pritzker would pay back that money to the county treasurer. He will pay about $133,000 for refunds obtained on a Chicago mansion for 2012, 2013 and 2014, and about $199,000 for additional tax savings for 2015 and 2016.
“This gets at the core of what’s wrong in our state – people who manipulate the system for their own benefit and their own gain,” Rauner said. “This is serious white-collar crime, and people have gone to prison for far less than stealing $330,000. Now, he’s repaid the money in the last couple days – because he got caught, because he knows it’s bad and it looks bad. … But a bank robber who gets caught and returns the money is still a bank robber.”
If voters give Rauner a second term, he said they can expect a push to fix higher education across the state, where many public colleges have been the setting of a mass outmigration of students.
Most public universities in Illinois saw enrollment decreases in 2017 because of a two-year state budget impasse. The state operated without a budget from July 2015 until July 2017, when the Legislature overrode Rauner’s veto of a spending plan and tax increase.
“Right in the beginning of my second term, we are going to have record funding for higher education, just like we did for K-12, and we’re going to rationalize the cost structure, and we’re going to fix our system so we have some of the best state universities and community colleges in the world,” Rauner said.
Rauner summed up his run for a second turn as a campaign aimed at reform.
"I want to change the system," he said.
“This [election] will determine whether we can continue to make progress in changing our system to grow more jobs and reduce our tax burden and get the corruption out of government, or whether we fall back to one-party rule, higher taxes, more corruption and the same policies that created a mess for us the last four years."
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.