Metro-East News

Pritzker: ‘I want to create jobs in downstate Illinois and I’m going to do that’

One day ahead of being sworn as governor of the state, J.B. Pritzker said he remains committed to helping southern Illinois, and not just the Chicago area.

Pritzker in November defeated Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner. Pritzker said in an interview on Sunday that one of his priorities to work out with the legislature is a capital bill.

“There’s a lot of opportunity in . . . turning East St. Louis into a logistics and transportation hub, but we’ve got to make the right kind infrastructure investments to make that happen,” Pritzker said.

He said with as much as 40 percent of the state population living outside of the Chicago-area, there needs to be investment across Illinois.

“Obviously there are many more roads across the rest of state. So we’ve got make sure we’ve got enough money to take care of those roads. When I say rest, I mean outside of Chicago,” Pritzker said “I’m very committed to creating jobs and building up infrastructure and job opportunities and businesses outside of just Cook County and the collar counties.”

But how he would want to see resources divided is something he hasn’t determined yet.

“I’m a guy who focuses on fairness and I also will say, downstate Illinois has often been left out or at least left behind,” Pritzker said. “I committed during the campaign I want to create jobs in downstate Illinois and I’m going to do that.”

Among the ways Pritzker sees to balance the budget and help pay for a capital bill is expanding gaming in the state, saying there is an opportunity now that the U.S. Supreme Court has struck down bans on sports betting.

“We could implement that in the state as one example. There certainly are opportunities for us to expand casino gaming in the state,” Pritzker said. “So those are a couple of ways for us to expand gaming. Balancing the budget is very important, it’s not just about those revenue enhancements. it’s also about bring efficiencies to state government.”

He said new casinos could be put in places near a state border to keep money from leaving the state, even as casino revenue falls, such as at the Casino Queen in East St. Louis.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called for a casino in the Windy City.

“I don’t disagree with you there’s been some canibalization within the state and there’s a limited amount of dollars that could exist in the state, but I also know this has to do with geography. Where you put a casino matters to how many dollars might flow from places they haven’t seen dollars flow before. … We ought to be thinking about how do we keep the dollars here that are being expended in other states.”

One of the first things that is expected to come to Pritzker’s desk is a bill that would require gun dealers to be licensed by the state even though they already need to have federal licenses.

“I support the second amendment, (but) I also want to keep our families safe and making sure we have the right kind of licensing background checks, monitoring of gun stores, and where the guns are proliferating from, when people buy them, seems like the right thing to do,” Pritzker said. “It’s something I’ve advocated for some time now.”

Pritzker said he has no intention of interfering with hunting or shooting competitions.

“I think people should have the opportunity to do that with their kids if that’s something they like to or just with their friends,” Pritzker said. “I’m a fan of the Sparta complex as something that might bring business to the state or provide people competitions.

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referenda.