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Pritzker Calls For $700M In Cuts; GOP, AFSCME Push Back

JB Pritzker closeup
Rex Arbogast
Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker says he plans to cut $700 million from the state budget.

State employees could see furlough days as a way to help the state of Illinois balance its budget. That's according to a plan Gov. JB Pritzker has laid out to cut $700 million from the budget.Republican and unions leaders immediately rejected the idea.

Pritzker said he wants to negotiate with AFSCME and other state labor unions to save $75 million in personnel costs. The governor's plan also calls for a hiring freeze.

Pritzker plans to create a prison closure working group to explore how the state can save money by closing corrections facilities. The governor indicated that is an option worth exploring since the state's prison population has dropped.

Pritzker blamed the budget shortfall largely on the coronavirus pandemic.

“I promised to be a governor who balances the budget and begins paying down the bills that my predecessor left behind. I promised to invest in education, job training and job creation,” Pritzker said in a statement. “Before COVID hit us, we did that. And despite all the current challenges, I am confident we will continue our ascent to economic strength and fiscal stability." 

Pritzker also renewed his call for Congress to provide COVID relief for states and cities.

The leading Republican in the Illinois Senate, Dan McConchie, said the cash crunch was Pritzker’s fault for ignoring spending reforms Republicans have proposed and counting on the progressive tax proposal that voters rejected in November.

Dan McConchie speaking with mask
Credit Justin L. Fowler/The State Journal-Register / AP
Illinois State Sen. Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, delivers remarks on the floor of the Illinois Senate at the Illinois state Capitol, Thursday, May 21, 2020, in Springfield, Ill.

“The governor can blame others all he wants for the state’s financial mess, but the fact of the matter is this is a bed of his own making,” McConchie said in a statement. “Instead of taking up spending reforms in anticipation of hard times to follow from COVID-19, Democrats and the governor increased spending, relying on magic money from the federal government that never materialized.”

Executive Director of AFSCME Council 31, Roberta Lynch, slammed the governor’s call for state employees to make financial sacrifices during a pandemic that has put their health at greater risk.

“It is grossly unjust to suggest that frontline state employees who have already sacrificed so much in our current public health crisis should bear an outsized share of the burden of fixing the state’s fiscal crisis as well," Lynch said in a statement. “Moreover, it is counterproductive in the extreme to target these employees at a time when the need for state services and the demands on state government are greater than ever.” 

Lynch said thousands of frontline state employees have contracted COVID, hundreds have been hospitalized and some have died.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.