Gov. J.B. Pritzker has released his proposal for the next Illinois budget as part of his State of the State address. But Republican lawmakers in the Peoria and Bloomington-Normal areas say it doesn't provide solutions to some of the state's biggest challenges.
The proposal for the upcoming fiscal year would mark a $1.8 billion decrease in spending compared to the previous budget. That's after closing over $900 million in what Pritzker called "unaffordable corporate loopholes."
Increases in the state income tax are absent from Pritzker's budget.
"I started with the premise that hardworking families should not have to pay more when they’re stretched the most thin,” said Pritzker. “I want middle class Illinoisans to pay lower income taxes, not higher."
But state Sen. Sally Turner, who represents parts of McLean County, said the overall plan doesn't go far enough.
"It didn't give me everything I wanted to know about fixes and how we were going to do certain things in order to plug holes and just not move money around," said Turner.
While she acknowledged that Pritzker's speech was primarily a budget address, she said she wanted to see more problem solving in areas such as COVID and business relief.
"I guess I didn't hear a lot of planning,” said Turner. “‘Our plans are X,’ not just here's the budget numbers, and I guess I was looking for more."
Fellow new state Sen. Win Stoller said the budget showed Pritzker as being “out of touch … with everyday people.”
“It increases taxes, it increases spending, and includes no reforms, and no vision and no plan to actually fix our state,” said Stoller, a Republican who represents parts of Peoria. “The governor has kicked the can down the road once again.”
Effect on local governments
Turner expressed concern over changes to the Local Government Distributive Fund, which provides state income tax revenue to cities and counties. Pritzker's proposed plan funds the program at 90% of its usual level. It also makes changes to how sales taxes are shared between the state and local governments. Turner said she dealt with similar changes during her time as Logan County clerk.
"Local governments are suffering, and that won't bode well with us," said Turner.
Turner said in her experience, governments that are close to the people, such as county governments, are held accountable by their constituents.
"The people don't let them get by with, oh, we'll fix it next year, or we'll plug a hole in it this year, you know, that type of thing, and I guess that's one of the big things I appreciate about local government," said Turner.
Even area Democrats such as state Sen. Dave Koehler say cuts to local government funding go too far. He said those funds need full support, though he otherwise said the budget “turned out to be better than [he] expected it to be.”
"I think we have to recognize that our cities and our villages, you know, have been going through the same kind of turmoil that the state has been going through," said Koehler.
Meanwhile, Republican state Sen. Jason Barickman from Bloomington said the state needs leadership. He said instead of that, the governor put forward more broken ideas.
"The reality is lots of people are out of work and want to see Illinois get to work again,” said Barickman. “I think Gov. Pritzker's proposal was reckless."
Echoes of the past
State Rep. Dan Brady, a Bloomington Republican, compared the new budget to what was put into effect last year. He says that budget ended up unbalanced by $5 billion because of the failure of Pritzker's progressive tax amendment to the state constitution.
"We're now experiencing the serious financial impact of that irresponsible decision, despite warnings from our caucus, and on top of COVID," said Brady.
He said this year's budget is more of the same. He notes it includes revenues not currently accounted for in state law.
State Rep. Mark Luft, a Republican from Pekin, echoed Brady’s concerns.
“Holding spending flat at $42 billion this year simply isn't enough when this proposal is out of balance by nearly $1.7 billion when based on current law, and not the fantasy tax increases and borrowing forgiveness that Gov. Pritzker assumes will happen,” said Luft.
State Sen. Chapin Rose, a Republican from Mahomet and the minority spokesperson for appropriations, has reached out to state agencies to find out how they would address potential budget cuts. He said in a letter to agencies that information would help in putting together "a realistic budget."
Rose said the governor's proposal relies on borrowed money being used to pay off borrowed money.
"That's like taking out your Discover card to pay off your Visa bill, alright?” said Rose. “This is not a healthy, sustainable space for any of us to live in."
Getting back to normal
Rose says a good budget would position Illinois for success in a post-COVID world.
"We've got to get back to the visionary approach that put Illinois as number one in the world in so many sectors."
Pritzker said there is plenty of room for debate on where to invest and where to make cuts. But he said the state is still in the midst of a crisis, and he said he's run out of patience for hypocrisy from the right.
"Anyone who calls themselves a public servant must acknowledge the truth,” said Pritzker. “The role of the government in a crisis is to end the crisis as quickly as possible and limit the pain the crisis inflicts on the people we serve."
As for Jason Barickman, despite his misgivings about the proposal, he said he's ready to get to work.
"I look forward to working with my colleagues on the other side of the aisle through this spring legislative session as we try to come together on a balanced budget," said Barickman.
If enacted, a new budget would take effect at the start of the state's fiscal year on July 1.
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