NORMAL – The first Illinois Governor to address Illinois News Broadcasters Association in 55 years told the gathering of news anchors, reporters, and writers they bring “sunlight to problems that desperately need to be fixed, and lift up the voices of those who haven’t been heard.”

On what was his 89th day in office as Governor of the State of Illinois on Saturday, J. B. Pritzker told a gathering of 120 guests in the Carol A. Reitan Convention Center at the Bloomington-Normal Marriott that public officials should be reminding the public “how important journalism is to a healthy democracy.”

“If we want a democracy to thrive, our democracy to thrive, we must have a First Amendment that thrives,” Pritzker said in beginning his remarks which lasted 12 minutes. The comment was met by applause from the assembled group.

Without naming President Donald Trump by name, Pritzker added, “You all know the media landscape is changing, newsrooms are shrinking, and the credibility of reporters is constantly being questioned by the highest elected leader in the land. The very definition of facts, reality, and news is under attack.”

“The free press should never be threatened for doing your jobs,” Pritzker said, without citing that journalists have been under threat at a number of campaign style rally events which Trump has held during his term in office. “The First Amendment must always be revered.”

Candidly, Pritzker said, “Sometimes, you’re going to get it wrong. Me, too. We each have an obligation to strive to get it right. But those in political power must be extremely careful that when we disagree with what’s being said, we never the less, fight for your right to get the information out.” He added that actual facts should never be labeled as fake news, a phrase Trump often uses in his disagreement over how the media does its job.

He said there should be a mutual respect between political figures and the media. “We need you,” Pritzker said. “You do the important work of educating the public and holding those in power accountable. Democracy doesn’t work without both sides of that equation.”

Pritzker added he believes being in the position of having to answer tough questions from the media “has made me a better leader.” He said the media has caused him at times to see issues from differing perspectives and he hoped he had caused the press to do the same.

A number of those attending the dinner were college students who were learning their reporting craft, some of whom had been honored by INBA for their efforts. He encouraged them to consider seeking jobs in the profession and stay in Illinois as they do so. “There are downstate communities that need your work as much as big cities do,” he said in addressing them.

“As Governor, I’m working hard every day to make Illinois a place where working families can put down roots,” Pritzker told the gathering.

Plans For Tackling Debt, Gun Violence Coming: He said for a number of years, news concerning Illinois has centered on “instability, debt, gun violence, and lurching from crisis to crisis.” He said he is in the midst of working on plans he has formulated to tackle each of these issues. He said he was “straight forward about our need for revenue, and to balance the State budget without doing it on the backs of the middle class.”

Pritzker’s budget for fiscal year 2020 included $25 million more aimed toward K-12 education in the State, a figure which went higher than the $350 million new dollars added last year through the new evidence-based funding law. In addition, his plan set aside another $21 million in funding for special education grants, $5 million for much-needed career and technical education programs for high school students, and $2 million to help low-income students pay for Advanced Placement testing.

He called his plan “a bridge to solving our deficits permanently using a fair tax.” He said he is working with members of the General Assembly to get the budget passed during this session. Under his plan, Pritzker said, those affected would be those persons in the State who earn more than $250,000 annually. He said that’s 3 percent of the State’s total population of nearly 13 million people.

“People like me should pay more,” said the Governor, who has an estimated net worth is $3.26 billion. He called the State’s current flat tax “regressive and unfair to the middle class and working poor.” He added the Fair Tax he proposes “will put Illinois on firmer fiscal footing.”

He said the Fair Tax would lead to balanced budgets in the future for the State. ”It will create stability for businesses,” Pritzker added, “The Fair Tax would reduce our multi-billion dollar deficit, it would balance future budgets, and reduce pension liability.” He said he believes his plan will help businesses already here, and will encourage businesses to return to Illinois, and allow all those businesses to grow.

He told the gathering the State has a trio of options to try to solve the financial puzzle: Cut funds for K-12 education, public safety, infrastructure, and money State universities receive by 15 percent; Raise the State income tax on all State residents by 20 percent on middle class and working poor; Or pass the Fair Tax he recommends. “I choose fairness,” he said.

He said he respects State Republicans’ right to disagree with his plan, but encouraged State GOP members to present any plans they have regarding the budget so that a dialogue can get underway. So far, he told reporters, that hasn’t happened. He challenged reporters to ask Republican General Assembly members and Senators what plans they have to stabilize State finances.

Pritzker said State GOP members’ plan appears to him to be do nothing, “and you can’t do nothing. And that’s fundamentally, what Republicans are baiting us with. They’re just saying ‘no.’” While GOP lawmakers are taking that route, Pritzker said, Republicans haven’t proposed any solutions of their own to help solve the State’s financial matters. He said Illinois has $15 billion worth of unpaid bills to attempt to pay, adding that before his predecessor, Bruce Rauner, was elected Governor four years ago, that figure was $5 billion.

“Undocumented People Are Residents Of Our State”: In a question-and-answer session following his remarks, Pritzker addressed President Trump’s plan to move undocumented refugees to communities that consider themselves sanctuary cities and sanctuary states. Pritzker responded by labeling Trump a Xenophobe and a racist, and said Trump’s threat is based on that. “We have undocumented people in our State today,” he responded. “They ought to be welcomed. We ought to be taken care of. They are residents of our State.”