The head of Illinois Senate Republicans called it “irresponsible” to build a state budget based on revenue from a graduated income tax that voters haven't considered yet.
State Sen. Bill Brady of Bloomington said after Gov. J.B. Pritzker's budget address that he should be looking for other ways to balance the budget.
“We understand he’s trying to sell his tax increase, that’s what this budget is trying to do,” Brady said. “It’s trying to sell a tax increase and threaten people if they don’t get the tax increase through this budget. We don’t think that’s a good way to do it.”
Voters will decide in November whether the state can change the Illinois Constitution to charge higher tax rates to wealthier Illinoisans. Pritzker is projecting that will generate about $1.4 billion annually.
Brady said the state could get that money through economic growth, which the state has projected at $650 million and about $800 million through state agency cuts the governor has ordered, while still increasing funding for education, health care and other state agencies and meet its pension obligations.
“We just don’t think it’s a good policy to rely on spending that requires a tax rate increase that the voters haven’t yet approved," Brady said.
GOP state Sen. Jason Barickman said the state's projected $1.6 billion increase in funding is "unrealistic," and he said holding "schools and others hostage while voters consider this tax hike is irresponsible."
"I'm hopeful that we will be able to enact meaningful pro-growth financial reforms that will help the long-term economic viability of the state," Barickman said.
State Rep. Dan Brady said he's encouraged to see Pritzker call for increased funding for higher education in the $42.1 billion budget plan.
The governor's budget plan calls for a $3.3 million funding increase for Illinois State University. But Brady, the deputy House Republican leader who also serves on the House appropriations committee for higher education, said he's concerned Pritzker is relying on the graduated income tax to make the budget a reality.
“That is something that is concerning to me because I want to see a budget that has no new taxes in it from the operations side of things, which I believe we can do,” Brady said.
More Money For DCFS
Brady added he'd like to see a “scrubbing” at the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services before the state gives it more funding that Pritzker has requested.
“If we are just going to put money in a broken system without looking at what has failed more deeply and make sure those dollars go to caseworkers out in the field versus more layers of bureaucracy, all we are doing is exacerbating the problem,” Brady said.
Pritzker has called for a $147 million funding increase for DCFS. That would boost funding at the child welfare agency 11% over two years.
DCFS has come under scrutiny following a string of high-profile deaths. An investigation revealed nearly 100 children in the DCFS system died during a two-year period.
State Rep. Keith Sommer, R-Morton, said he’d like to see how the child welfare agency is changing its culture before he approves additional funding.
“How is it children are placed in a household where there are individuals present who have a history of child abuse?” Sommer asked.
Sommer said it's encouraging to see that Pritzker wants to meet the state's pension obligation this year, but he said that should only be a start.
“We are still not addressing the overall pension question,” Sommer said. “It’s sort of the elephant in the room, it just still there at the side.”
Sommer added he also wants to see Pritzker address the need to reduce property taxes, but he hopes increased education funding would lower the tax burden for local school districts.
Democrats found Pritzker’s second annual budget proposal more palatable.
State Sen. Dave Koehler of Peoria called Pritzker’s budget plan a responsible one.
“He could have put together a real doomsday budget and say, ‘Here’s the budget but really what we need is to have that constitutional amendment (for the graduated income tax).’ He didn’t do that,” Koehler said. “He said, ‘Here’s the way we will responsibly proceed in the future and here’s what happens if we are able to put more resources into the things that are really priorities.”
Koehler praised the increased DCFS and healthcare funding included in the budget. He predicted the budget will pass the General Assembly relatively easily.
“I think in the end that we are going to see a very successful budget negotiation and hopefully bipartisan support on the budget," he said.
Lawmakers have until May 31 to pass a budget that would take affect July 1. Democrats hold supermajorities in both chambers.
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