Democratic candidate for Illinois governor, J.B. Pritzker, meets Friday with the Dispatch/Argus editorial board.

We backed Republican Bruce Rauner for governor four years ago because we believed he was the change agent needed to turn Illinois around.

The state did see changes under the rookie governor. Unfortunately, too many things went from bad to worse.

Those changes included a crippling budget impasse that accelerated Illinois’ record-breaking race to the bottom. The governor shares blame for that with Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan. Their unnecessary battle of wills paralyzed state government and hurt people all over Illinois.

Now Illinoisans are being asked to decide whether Rauner should get a second chance, or if they should opt for new leadership in Democratic challenger J.B. Pritzker. The race also includes Libertarian candidate Grayson “Kash” Jackson and Conservative Party candidate Sam McCann. But our next governor is likely to be one of the two billionaires waging the most expensive gubernatorial election in U.S. history.

Pritzker argues that it’s time for a new approach, and he has the plan and the experience needed to fix our state.

Rauner also promises a new start, and wants voters to give him the opportunity to use what he has learned to advance policies that grow Illinois to prosperity. We continue to back many of those changes. But can he find a way to do in the next four years what he couldn’t do in the last four?

Rauner’s new willingness to acknowledge mistakes is welcome. But he’s offered no alternative path to the failed one he’s stubbornly stuck to since 2014. Demonizing Madigan still is no substitute for effective governing.

Pritzker’s campaign raises its own red flags for those who worry that a Democratic governor would remove the last roadblock to a liberal agenda that leads to huge tax hikes and/or plunges Illinois deeper in debt.

Pritzker has worked to show he’s his own man, but he declines to criticize Madigan. Rather, he says, he will consult with legislative leaders to enact policies that are good for Illinois.

That’s probably a wise strategy for someone who expects to win, and doesn’t want to repeat Rauner’s missteps. Pritzker will need support from Madigan & Co. to get anything done.

We also are concerned that Pritzker’s big ideas are short on details. Those concerns are tempered in part by the pragmatic approach Pritzker suggests he’ll take to the job.

For example, a key part of his plan for growing Illinois is swapping Illinois’ flat income tax for a progressive tax. He’s right that Illinois must reform a terrible tax structure that’s too reliant on skyrocketing property taxes.

The trick will be to craft a plan that protects middle-class and poor Illinoisans from large income tax hikes. Pritzker repeatedly has declined to say what a new tax structure should look like. He does, however, promise it won’t result in higher taxes for most Illinoisans. He also says he’ll explore mechanisms to constrain leaders from abusing their new power.

Of course, the most powerful restraint in a democracy is voters. And lawmakers can’t do anything without their approval. If advocates cannot convince Illinoisans that the progressive tax is a better idea and that their leaders can be trusted with one, voters will not approve the constitutional amendment required to make the change.

Pritzker also cautions that restoring Illinois to a national leader will require a series of steps, including spending cuts, boosting education and growing jobs in our state. He’s done more than talk about the latter. He’s done it, for example, at an 1871 tech business incubator that has brought thousands of jobs to Chicago. We need to repeat that success all over our state.

Rauner deserves our gratitude for launching an overdue revolution in Illinois. He also had the right focus for fixing our state. But his my-way-or- the-highway approach doomed most of his best ideas to failure.

Intransigence means gridlock, not growth.

Pritzker advocates a new path of negotiation and compromise, one that needs to be steered by a strong, independent leader who also is not afraid to say no when it is in the best interests of the taxpayers of Illinois.

In the hopes that Pritzker is that leader, he is endorsed.


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