Five days after blowing a self-imposed deadline to pass the state budget, Governor JB Pritzker and Democratic leaders of the Illinois General Assembly announced Wednesday they had reached agreement on a balanced budget featuring a “mid 50-plus billion dollars” in spending.
“This is not only a balanced budget, it's a good budget,” Pritzker told reporters Wednesday afternoon with Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside.
Pritzker's office released a fact sheet highlighting the overall budget, but not the overall spending figures. The governor said the budget is “mid 50-plus billion dollars” – which he described as “slightly more than the introduced budget.” Pritzker's proposed budget plan from February totaled $49.6 billion in spending.
“This budget is balanced – no gimmicks,” Welch told a news conference. “This budget will help save for our future.”
Health care for undocumented immigrants is one of the sticking points during budget negotiations. Democrats are careful about setting numbers — and taking political responsibility for budget requests. The cost to states of health care coverage for undocumented people can cost more than $1 billion. But there is debate as to whether the figure is inflated.
Pritzker said the House and Senate had agreed to give the governor's office “tools” to manage the program so it does not reach unsustainable proportions.
“We're moving the program forward, but in a budget-friendly way so that everyone gets the health care they need,” said Pritzker.
According to the fact sheet, the budget framework includes an additional $200 million in pension payments, bringing the total pension stabilization investment to $700 million.
It also includes adding $250 million to fund the first year of the governor's early childhood plan to eliminate preschool deserts and help stabilize the childcare workforce. It also includes $50 million for early childhood capital raising — and $350 million for the state's evidence-based funding formula for K-12 schools.
That doesn't include funding for Invest in Kids, a tax credit program for private school scholarships, which is largely supported by Republicans. The governor acknowledged, “this is something that still has time, potentially, but it's not something that's in the budget deal.”
For higher education, the proposal includes an additional $100 million in MAP grants and an increase of $100 million for public universities.
For economic development, $400 million will be used to close major economic development deals and attract businesses and jobs to the state.
It also includes continued funding for the $250 million Reimagine Public Safety Act to prevent gun violence and expanded funding for youth employment programs — and an $18 million increase to support reproductive health initiatives, according to the governor's office.
Democratic leaders have said they want a smoother budget plan this year – in that the Senate will not introduce the measure until it is fully approved by the House. There are usually amendments — and disagreements — during the process as the legislative caucus tries to ensure that the framework covers their needs.
The budget announced on Wednesday still has to pass through both chambers, but both Welch and Harmon said they were expecting it, and Pritzker promised to sign off on it.
Last week's Friday deadline was made up, not required by any state statute or legislature. But stretching it any further than that would suggest that the Democrats, even with supermajorities in both chambers, cannot get their act together. On May 31, an immediately effective bill requires a three-fifths majority. The new fiscal year begins on July 1.
Harmon dismissed speculation about a falling out among Democrats, telling reporters, “Confidence between the three of us is at an all-time high, and I look forward to getting this budget done without any deviation from that.”
Another issue Democrats are weighing in budget talks is the potential for reduced sales and income tax revenue, post-pandemic. But the Pritzker administration says their budget plan, which was unveiled in February, has taken that into account.
Pritzker's proposed spending plan includes a major boost to education funding in the state — including a $250 million investment in early education and a $506 million increase in K-12 funding. Education, human services, pensions and health care will receive the bulk of the $49.6 billion spending proposal — as the state projects an estimated general revenue of $49.94 billion, down 2.8% from the revised estimate.
For their part, House Republicans say they haven't had much to say in negotiating this year's budget. But Senate Republicans said their caucus leader and the “budget manager” appointed had met during the budget process.
House Republicans mostly want no new spending, and reduced land taxes, among other priorities.
With the budget bill submitted on Wednesday, lawmakers have put in motion a plan that could see the budget passed by Friday – barring a big bang.
The Illinois Republican Party, which is in massive rebuilding mode after last year's high-profile election loss, was the first to criticize the budget deal, calling it a “partisan wish list, not a negotiation.” They also took the time to contact Pritzker because of his political ambitions.
“With complete control of the government, Illinois Democrats continue to tax and spend, ranking Illinois at the top of every metric of the tax burden on residents and driving families away year after year,” party chairman Don Tracy said in a statement. “It's time Governor Pritzker ruled responsibly and stopped dreaming about the White House.”