Gov. JB Pritzker’s first budget speech made clear the first-term Democrat doesn’t expect to fix Illinois’ financial straits in a year.
“To get to fiscal stability and eliminate our structural deficit, there’s no quick fix. It took decades to get us into this mess. It will take at least several years to get us out of it,” said Pritzker. “We must therefore embrace a multi-year approach with fair principles and smart investments in our people. Our state does well when our people do well.”
Pritzker said he wants to focus upon boosting education, health and human services, and public safety funding in the $39 billion fiscal year 2020 budget. The governor is also calling for a progressive income tax as a longer-term fix, though such a proposal couldn’t be introduced until next year at the earliest.
Without action, Pritzker’s administration said the state faces down a $3.2 billion deficit by spring of 2020.
In the near term, Gov. Pritzker called for legalizing recreational marijuana and sports betting to bolster revenues, as well as implementing a new tax on insurance companies to fund the state Medicaid program.
Pritzker also called for looking at a number of angles to fill Illinois’ $130 billion unfunded pension liability. Pritzker’s administration is looking at moving state assets into pension funds, or potentially selling state assets to bolster the funds.
Pritzker called for increasing funding for MAP grants, early childhood, and AIM HIGH scholarships. He also hailed Tuesday’s signing of a bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 statewide.
House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago) said he and the Democrats who control the General Assembly are looking forward to working with Pritzker.
“Amid the challenges we heard spelled out today, we also heard that we now have a governor who recognizes the magnitude of these challenges and will work with us to address them. House Democrats stand ready to work with Governor Pritzker and our Republican colleagues, bring all options to the table for honest negotiation, make the tough decisions, continue to stand strong and protect critical human services and quality schools, and move Illinois forward,” said Madigan, who blamed former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for much of the state’s current financial turmoil.
“I think the governor’s budget is an important marker for what it’s going to take to the return the state budget to what it should be. I think it clearly lays out our values by increasing funding for both K-12 and higher education while also starting important conversations on how to deal with a pension system that consumes a fifth of our budget,” said state Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria). “I still have many questions about how this budget will affect Central Illinois and I’m confident this new administration will work with us, not against us, to get this done right.”
Republicans were less optimistic about the budget speech.
“The Governor’s proposed budget represents a starting point for further negotiations. We heard a lot in his speech about more spending, more tax increases and concepts tried in the past. And while we as legislators now begin digging into the details, I have grave concerns about the pension plan and I remain opposed to a graduated income tax,” said Illinois Senate Republican Minority Leader Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) “The people of Illinois are demanding their elected officials address the fiscal crisis facing our state. If we are going to put Illinois on a path forward; then we need to learn from history, not repeat it.”
“Skipping pension payments, borrowing new debt, raising taxes, increasing spending – it’s clear that J.B. Pritzker is the new Rod Blagojevich,” said Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider. “Pritzker’s unbalanced budget proposal is more of the same, failed policies that got our state into the mess it’s currently in. Illinois taxpayers cannot afford to return to the budget deficits and failed policies of the Blagojevich era. Pritzker pledged to deliver a balanced budget, and he failed.”