Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he won’t let news of a federal criminal probe into $331,000 in questionable property tax breaks he received on a Gold Coast mansion interfere with his push for a progressive income tax.
From the outset of his gubernatorial campaign, Pritzker has been pushing to change the state constitution's flat income tax to a structure that allows for higher tax rates for higher earners. He also found out through the media that he’s been under federal investigation since the campaign.
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"What I know is what you all know from the reporting that was done this morning," Pritzker said Wednesday in Chicago during an unrelated media event.
Chicago public radio WBEZ first reported Wednesday that federal investigators were looking at how Pritzker, his wife and several others handled matters related to a 2015 property tax break the couple got. A Cook County inspector general's report found the Pritzkers had toilets removed from a spare mansion to have it deemed uninhabitable to get a $331,000 tax break. The report called it a "scheme to defraud" the county. Days after the report was leaked, Pritzker paid the money back.
Pritzker said he's not worried about reports of a federal probe.
"No concerns at all," Pritzker said. "As I say, any review of this will show that all the rules were followed."
Several Republican congressmen in October requested a federal review.
"It’s probably one of the least surprising announcements I’ve seen," said U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, in an interview Wednesday. He was one of the Republican congressmen who asked the U.S. Attorney of the Northern District of Illinois to review the matter.
"Unfortunately Gov. Pritzker put himself into this position," Davis said. "This was an issue that was part of the campaign and I hope it’s a lesson learned that it’s just not worth it to try to save a few bucks, especially when your net worth is in the billions."
Davis said the savings would have been averaged out to $50 dollars if the typical family had tried such a scheme.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said Wednesday he’s glad federal officials are looking into the matter.
"I’m very pleased to know that they began their investigation after the inspector general released to the public that Governor Pritzker had schemed to defraud the taxpayers of Cook County," Schneider said. "At this time, I think Gov. Pritzker should immediately abandon any push to impose any more taxes on the people of Illinois."
Pritzker said he won’t let the investigation distract him from his agenda.
"We have many bills that will focus on lifting up working families," Pritzker said. "That’s the focus of all of our efforts and that’s what I’m going to remain laser focused on."
Schneider said Pritzker should drop all tax hike talk because he not an honest broker in tax policy discussion. Schneider said Pritzker has been found to dodge taxes, including using offshore accounts. Pritzker's personal fortune has been estimated at $3.2 billion.
"The governor likes to call his push for more taxes fair, but it's clear that nothing about fairness or equity is involved here," Schneider said. "He needs to drop his push for all his massive tax increases that would only hurt the middle class families even further in Illinois."
Pritzker’s proposed budget for the coming year relies on a slew of new revenue streams and tax increases ranging from expanding sports gambling to a statewide plastic bag tax and more.