Gubernatorial candidate Ameya Pawar discusses income tax, criminal justice reform at local event


Colin Boyle/Daily Senior Staffer

Ald. Ameya Pawar of Chicago (47th) speaks at Lane Tech College Prep in 2015. On Saturday, Pawar addressed more than 50 people at an event organized by the Evanston chapter of Action for a Better Tomorrow.

Edmund Bannister, Reporter

Ald. Ameya Pawar of Chicago (47th), a Democratic candidate for governor, said only a progressive leader could fix the state’s budget issues and restore dynamism to Illinois during a Saturday event in Evanston.

Pawar, who announced his gubernatorial bid in January, laid out his plan for Illinois at the Hip Circle Studio, 709 Washington St. The event was organized by the Evanston chapter of Action for a Better Tomorrow, an Illinois-based progressive advocacy group with chapters across the state. Alisa Kaplan, founder of Evanston’s ABT chapter, said more than 50 people attended the event.

During his speech, Pawar said the only way to resolve Illinois’ severe budget crisis without cutting essential social services is to institute a graduated income tax — a tax that varies based on income. Currently, Illinois has a constitutionally mandated flat tax, which charges high- and low-income citizens the same percentage.

“The flat income tax is the reason we can’t pay our bills,” Pawar said.

The candidate also criticized the state’s criminal justice system. He said Illinois puts too many low-level drug offenders in prison and then bars their reentry to society by disqualifying them from college scholarships and state financial aid.

After his speech, Pawar fielded questions from the audience and addressed other issues like environmental policy and public education.

Since Pawar launched his gubernatorial bid, he has been joined in the race by State Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston), Chris Kennedy — son of the late Sen. Robert F. Kennedy — and most recently, businessman J.B. Pritzker. The Democratic nominee will likely face incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner in the general election next year.

At the event on Saturday, an audience member pointed out that both Pritzker and Rauner are billionaires with the means to self-finance their campaigns. When asked about his strategy to compete with these candidates, Pawar emphasized the importance of face-to-face conversations and bringing together Cook County with the rest of the state.

“We’re barnstorming our way around the state, having the same conversation,” Pawar said. “Our plan is to go to every county in the state and go talk to people on a very retail level.”

Pawar said Rauner is employing a “divide and rule” strategy to drive a wedge between Chicago and downstate counties, and pledged to represent all voters. He made an appeal to the audience to turn out to vote in local and state elections, and encouraged more women to run for political office.

Malik Turley, owner of Hip Circle Studio and an ABT member, told The Daily the group’s mission was to translate progressive enthusiasm into tangible political results.

“We’re really working on getting people engaged and participating in their government,” Turley said.

In the future, the group wants to host more forums for gubernatorial candidates to express their ideas, Kaplan told The Daily.

“I’m glad that there are several candidates for governor that are advancing unabashedly progressive visions for the state,” she said. “This is an alternative way to leverage the energy of the state and the energy of progressives that could actually lead to some real change.”

This article was updated with additional information from Alisa Kaplan.

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