Bringing a massive casino to Chicago’s struggling neighborhoods and legalizing marijuana across Illinois is the price to pay for stabilizing the fiscal basket case that the state has become, rookie Governor J.B. Pritzker said June 4.
“We’re putting our fiscal house in order," Pritzker said June 4 in an interview with Bloomberg News. “Nothing’s going to be fixed overnight, but we’ve made significant progress. And honestly, I really believe that we have turned this ship in the right direction. Illinois is back.”
Pritzker rejected the suggestion that his agenda was opening the door to a new era of crime and corruption in Chicago, where just hours earlier a powerful City Council leader pleaded not guilty to charges he extorted favors from those doing business with the city.
The state’s gaming board, not Chicago politicians, will regulate the city’s new casino, which will be twice the size of existing gambling establishments in the state. Lawmakers also legalized sports betting, clearing the way for wagering at the state’s iconic venues including the Chicago Cubs’ Wrigley Field and the Bears’ Soldier Field.
“This was all about our being able to pay our bills,” create jobs and build new schools and other infrastructure, Pritzker said.
He discussed a wide range of other issues:
Illinois is the largest U.S. soybean growing state and ranks second to Iowa in corn, and Pritzker said President Donald Trump’s trade war with big soy importer China poses a long-term threat as buyers turn to Brazil and other sources.
“I can say that from my own experience — not in agriculture, but of having big customers, trying to win big customers and losing a big customer — they don’t reverse course fast. So, I’m very concerned,” he said.
Pritzker said federal aid to farmers hurt by the trade war is “not enough,” and he’s been lobbying U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for more.
“That’s where most of the dollars that these farmers need are,” Pritzker said.
Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, which could eventually bring in $300 million to $700 million annually, Pritzker said. The change isn’t going to encourage more use, because “marijuana is readily available now,’’ he said. More importantly, the bill allows some drug convictions to be expunged.
“Are we safer with it legalized? Are we safer with it illegal? ... I believe we’re making a more just society,” he said. “This most importantly was about criminal justice reform, expunging records and safety.”
While the centerpiece of Pritzker’s agenda is the progressive income tax, his budget also levies another $1 per pack on cigarettes and doubles the state gasoline tax.
“To fund infrastructure, it’s important to have significant dollars available to do that, and so we had to look for it wherever we could.’’