Pritzker delivers speech on ‘Groundhog Day’ re-election budget

CHICAGO — Gov. JB Pritzker didn’t see his shadow while delivering the state of the state address on Groundhog Day.

When a groundhog doesn’t see its shadow on February 2 – which was the case for Willy at Woodstock on Wednesday – forecasters say it means an early end to winter.

I’m not sure what a no-holds-barred budget speech on Groundhog Day might mean for the Illinois governor’s impending re-election bid.

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But Pritzker’s speech reminded me of the classic movie, “Groundhog Day” – the story of a self-absorbed meteorologist living the inexplicably worst day of his life over and over again.

Throughout Pritzker’s first term, Illinois received exaggerated promises, proclamations and predictions from the billionaire trust fund governor who desperately wants us to believe he has invested hundreds of millions of dollars of his personal fortune to get elected – and try to shove a failed tax hike down your throat – because he has the interests of working people at heart.

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His budget speech was Groundhog Day, again.

As I watched, it seemed like Pritzker ruled over an imaginary version of Illinois and wanted us to believe we lived there too.

“Here’s one thing I know for sure. Illinois is the best place to live in the whole country,” he said.

It comes from a guy whose family divides its time between mansions and equestrian estates in Wisconsin, the Bahamas and Florida, and keeps money in offshore bank accounts to avoid paying taxes.

The Pritzker speechwriters made me laugh with a list of reasons why our state is the best of the best. Each refuted by a quick Google search, of course.

“Our history is more interesting, our food tastier, our businesses more innovative, our workers more industrious, our schools more distinguished, our culture more enlightening, and our people more diverse, intelligent, and creative than any other state in this great land of the world. ours,” the governor said.

There are rankings for most of these things that show, for example, that Illinois is not the most diverse and innovative state in America.

When Pritzker said that Illinois had “the number one ranked infrastructure in the nation,” he is quoting a cable news network listing and ignoring all other rankings that say otherwise.

The truth about Illinois is that our schools are not hailed as the most distinguished and our citizens are not the smartest in America, as the governor said.

Perhaps Pritzker thinks Illinois is naive enough to believe in blatant boosterism — of our state and himself — without context.

It seems the governor wants voters to remember his plan for a year-long pause on a planned gas tax, but forget that he championed that annual gas tax hike and the pushed through the legislature with former Speaker of the House Michael Madigan in 2019.

In the ultimate election-year gimmick, Pritzker says he wants the general assembly to “suspend” license fees for restaurants, a move he failed to make last year when he closed home restaurants and that it was not months away from an election.

Pritzker, who once avoided paying property taxes on a mansion by removing all toilets, has touted a proposal to extend property tax credits to homeowners who pay the sixth-highest median property tax bill in America.

In response to rising crime and gun violence, a campaign issue his Republican opponents say he hasn’t done enough to tackle, the looming election inspired Pritzker to suddenly become enlightened enough to “propose” increased spending on violence intervention, witness protection and summer jobs. But as shootings have increased in Chicago across the state over the past two non-election years, the governor shrugged his shoulders.

In his budget speech, the governor boasted that more Illinois “has been vaccinated than any other state in the Midwest.” What Pritzker didn’t say is that Illinois’ vaccination rate trails many of the most populous states, including New York, Pennsylvania and California. Even Florida has a higher vaccination rate than Illinois, according to the CDC.

In what appeared to be a blatant plea to show minority voters he cared, Pritzker claimed his administration was “leading with fairness, with the highest regional vaccination rates for our black and brown residents.” Nationally, however, Illinois ranked 14th and 9th respectively for the percentage of black and Latino residents vaccinated.

Indeed, Pritzker’s biggest vaccine “equity” push — a request to allow statewide access to a United Center mass vaccination site — has led to appointments. you mostly white commuters.

Pritzker’s budget speech was just one more proof that, no matter the topic, Illinois gets an augmented version of reality from our billionaire governor over and over again.

Like Groundhog Day.


Mark Konkol, recipient of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for Local Reporting, wrote and produced the Peabody Prize-winning series “Time: The Kalief Browder Story.” He was producer, writer and narrator for the docuseries “Chicagoland” on CNN and a consulting producer on the Showtime documentary “16 Shots.”

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