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Pritzker and Illinois House leaders discuss budget, end of session

6.1 PRITZKER PHOTO

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - The fiscal year 2022 budget is heading to Gov. JB Pritzker's desk following a long night of work for the House and Senate. The $42.3 budget passed out of both chambers along partisan lines. Although, two Democrats voted against the proposal in the Senate.

Senate President Don Harmon later filed a motion for reconsideration, preventing the bill from moving to the governor's office. He withdrew that motion Tuesday afternoon, allowing the proposal to head to Pritzker's desk.

The governor says his administration's efforts to help families through the COVID-19 pandemic, while also managing the state's fiscal challenges, could be an example for the country. Republicans argue Democrats are spending too much on the 2022 budget. But, Pritzker explained it pays off debt early and could nearly eliminate the state's backlog of bills.

The governor explained Illinois will pay off the $3.2 billion borrowed from the federal reserve a year before it's due. Pritzker argues Republicans would spend the one-time funds from the American Rescue Plan to "paper over" the state's structural deficit.

"Democrats are investing in priorities that will grow and revitalize our economy, improving our fiscal outlook dramatically and reducing tax expenditures on the wealthiest corporations. It's the Democrats that are getting the state's fiscal house in order," Pritzker said.

Democrats closed four of the nine tax incentives, the governor called loopholes, to save $655 million for the state. Pritzker initially hoped to keep nearly $1 billion by closing several tax breaks he agreed to with Republicans in 2019.

Loopholes closed

The budget plan caps corporate net operating loss deductions at $100,000 per year for the next three years. It also rolls back two portions of the Federal Tax Cut & Jobs Act passed under the Trump administration. Republicans weren't happy to see Democrats go back on their word and freeze the roll-off of the corporate franchise tax as that was a portion of the Blue Collar Jobs Act in 2019.

Republicans feel those dollars should've gone to businesses in the state that could leave without financial support.

Meanwhile, House Democratic leaders met with reporters around 3:00 a.m. Tuesday to highlight some of their success during the last week of the spring session.

Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch celebrated passing a "balanced" budget and redistricting maps, as well as ethics and elections reforms that passed just before session ended.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris was glad Democrats could put budget funds towards the evidence-based school funding model, early childhood, and assistance for refugees. He explained the state is also finally fully funding the Division of Developmental Disabilities at $170 million.

"It's time that in Illinois we step up and provide the resources that people in the developmentally disabled community need. So, this has been a long time coming and it's an investment we're glad we could make," Harris said.

The much-needed boost in funding will allow for a pay raise for caretakers, among other changes for care facilities.

Democrats also celebrated passing a large affordable housing plan that could leverage hundreds of millions of dollars in public and private investments to build and renovate homes.

"Diversity is the strength of our state."

While legislation for clean energy and a plan to "fix the FOID" didn't pass, Welch said his caucus did great work to help Illinois families. The Speaker says the 2022 budget will help the state's most vulnerable and puts Illinois on track for stronger fiscal health and recovery. He's also proud of expanding access to voting and the Black Caucus pillars.

However, some of the last-minute proposals that didn't pass came from disagreements between Welch and Senate President Don Harmon. Although, Welch described it as a learning experience.

"Diversity is the strength of our state. Diversity is the strength of this House Democratic Caucus and the Senate Democratic Caucus," Welch said. "We're not gonna always agree. Sometimes we disagree, and that's because of our great diversity."

House Republicans feel Democrats failed to find a solution for the state's debt in the unemployment insurance trust fund. The Illinois Department of Employment Security was overwhelmed with people applying for unemployment benefits throughout this pandemic. Top House GOP budgeteer Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) says Illinois has a $5 billion deficit in the trust fund caused by COVID-19. The budget only appropriates $10 million to the fund.

He argues lawmakers could've solved that issue with a one-time payment using American Rescue Plan funds. Demmer stressed there was a clear question of priorities for the $8.1 billion in relief funds Illinois will receive.

"Instead of prioritizing something like unemployment insurance which affects every employee and employer across the state, we saw $1 billion in capital projects that came from Democrat only member requests," Demmer explained.

Not leaving the "little guy" out

The Capitol Bureau asked Pritzker Tuesday afternoon why Democrats didn't put more money into the unemployment fund. Pritzker said states have 3 1/2 years to allocate all of the funding from the American Rescue Plan. However, he also hopes the federal government can supply direct support for unemployment insurance as well.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin says Democrats don't consider small businesses that had to cut their workforce as a top priority. He noted that many business owners can barely keep their doors open now, even with the economy recovering.

Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle constantly received calls and direct messages for help with unemployment. Still, Durkin says Democrats just wanted to stuff their own pockets.

"They ignore them, particularly at the worst time ever," Durkin emphasized. "And that is an embarrassment. It's a slap in the face of these men and women who are trying to keep their doors open and keep people employed who still want to stay and remain in the state of Illinois."

Republicans also felt the governor and Democrats categorized them as "nonessential" during budget negotiations. Durkin emphasized last November's election was a perfect example of what residents think of the Illinois government and spending.

He calls the failure of the graduated income tax an indictment of Pritzker and Democratic spending priorities.

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Mike Miletich

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