SPRINGFIELD — When Democrat J.B. Pritzker is sworn in Monday as the 43rd governor of Illinois, he wants it to mark a shift toward steadiness and growth for the state.
"I don't think there's any question about the differences between (outgoing GOP Gov.) Bruce Rauner and me," Pritzker told The State Journal-Register in an interview at the Wyndham Springfield City Centre on Sunday — a day before his inauguration. "And I hope there's no question in people's minds that we are very focused on bringing stability to state government."
"I think the people of the state have lost faith in state government," he added. "I think people who work in state government have lost morale. And if we can lift up morale, if we can make sure we're delivering services for people across the state, and bring great people into the positions of the Cabinet ... that itself, that stability, does a lot to lift up people."
Rauner also pushed growth, but his agenda, which was largely at odds with a General Assembly dominated by Democrats, included weakening government unions. Rauner's bid for a second term was thwarted by Pritzker, who won the Nov. 6 election by nearly 16 points.
While not giving specifics of the inauguration address he will deliver today at the Bank of Springfield Center, Pritzker said -- mirroring his campaign -- that he would work to lift the state "out of its fiscal challenges" and "make sure that we're focusing on working families.
"College affordability is very important to me, as well as early childhood education," Pritzker added. "And then expanding health care and creating jobs. ... It's been very stagnant for the last four years. We've benefited from the upward trajectory of the overall economy in the United States, but we could be doing so much better. We're in the bottom third of job creation, and this is a state with a whole lot of talented entrepreneurs and great companies, and we ought to be attracting people to the state, not driving them away."
Pritzker noted his experience in helping startup businesses -- including through the 1871 business incubator he founded in Chicago.
"The big portion of jobs that get created are created by small businesses that grow into medium-size businesses," he said, and he would push for loans, technical assistance and mentorship to help entrepreneurs.
The union with the most state workers as members -- the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers -- hasn't reached a new contract agreement with the state since mid-2015.
"I'm 100 percent committed to the collective bargaining process," Pritzker said. "Obviously, we have financial challenges for the state, so we'll be sitting down with AFSCME to make sure that we're addressing their contract and making sure that we're doing the right thing (and) living up to the law."
Pritzker, who turns 54 on Saturday, will be living in the Governor's Mansion and spending most of his time in Springfield. He has said his children will continue going to school in Chicago, but the family will be doing a lot of commuting.
"I'm really excited to spend time here in Springfield and get to know Springfield, the surrounding area, Sangamon County and the rest of Central Illinois," he said Sunday. He also said Cabinet picks already made and on the way are from across Illinois.
"I wanted to make sure that southern Illinois, central Illinois, northwestern Illinois, are all represented in our government," he said. "The government really does reflect the diversity from a geographic perspective of the state, as well as ... from a demographic perspective."
Pritzker takes over state government with a president from an opposing party -- Republican Donald Trump -- in the White House. And in various forums, including a recent interview by David Axelrod, director of the University of Chicago's Institute of Politics, Pritzker has said Trump is a racist.
So can he work with the Trump administration?
"You know I have significant disagreements with the president of the United States, and I will work vociferously, vehemently to defeat him in 2020 -- although I'll be very focused on Illinois so I won't be that involved," Pritzker said. "But I'll do anything I can."
Still, he said, "there are a lot more people working in government than just the president," and despite political differences, he plans to work with federal agency leaders to benefit Illinois. He said he called former U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack -- a Pritzker friend and former Iowa governor -- and Vilsack told him Illinois was "one of the worst states for accessing programs" from the department.
"That's just one example, but there are a lot of dollars at the federal level that I'm going after," Pritzker said.
He said that he would be proposing "a real balanced budget" in a budget address planned for Feb. 20, and he will be pushing government efficiency in areas including technology, while also seeking to pass a constitutional amendment in 2020 to allow for a graduated income tax. Illinois' can now only have a flat income tax.
"The states that have a fair tax system like the one I'm proposing are doing much better in terms of job creation, in terms of paying their pensions, balancing their budget, than we are," he said. "And businesses are growing in their states, despite what some Republicans would like to say." And while many in the GOP oppose a move to the graduated tax, he said, "I think we're going to win some support from Republicans for this. ..."
Pritzker said there are no plans at this time for a State of the State address in addition to the budget speech.
Pritzker will take the oath of office from Cook County Judge James Snyder, who Pritzker says has been a friend for a quarter century. Pritzker also said he believes Snyder will be the first openly gay judge to swear in an Illinois governor. Snyder is also the first openly gay president of the Illinois Judges Association.
Before the inauguration, there is an interfaith service at First Presbyterian Church downtown Springfield. Pritzker will become the third Jewish governor of the state. Others were Henry Horner of Chicago, who served from 1933 until his death in 1940, and Sam Shapiro of Kankakee, who moved from lieutenant governor to the top office in May 1968, but lost the election that fall to Richard Ogilvie and left office in January 1969.
Pritzker said he belongs to the same Chicago synagogue that Horner attended: Chicago Sinai Congregation. Rabbi Seth Limmer of Chicago Sinai will offer a prayer at the morning service, Pritzker said.
"It's a service that will be representative of many religions across state, and we've got lots of religious leaders that are coming," Pritzker said. Other constitutional officers to be sworn in will also have pastors offering prayers, he added.
"I'm very proud of the diversity" in the government and among elected officials, he said.
"This has got to be the most diverse set of constitutional officers that's been elected in the state," Pritzker said, "And I'm very proud of that fact."