SPRINGFIELD, Ill. - Gov. JB Pritzker says it's remarkable that state lawmakers could pass a "balanced" budget during a pandemic without help from the federal government.
While Illinois received assistance from the American Rescue Plan, Democratic leaders structured the $42.3 billion budget with the unexpected rise in state revenue and keeping spending down. Pritzker is also glad the state addressed debt head-on by paying off COVID-19 borrowing from the federal reserve in one payment.
"These are all things that we had been aiming to do but didn't think we'd be able to," Pritzker told the Capitol Bureau. "So, I'm thrilled that people moderated their desire to spend and that we did the things that we did. I think that we've set our state up for firm fiscal footing moving forward."
The governor noted Illinois would have the full $350 million investment for the evidence-based school funding model and meet the state's pension obligation. Still, Republicans feel the majority party had the opportunity to pass a budget without getting rid of $655 million of tax incentives for businesses.
"Input from the Republican party was not even considered," said Senate GOP Leader Dan McConchie. "We reached out multiple times in an attempt to engage with the majority and to find a way to partner on the budget process as well as many other areas to make sure the needs of the entire state were met. It is clear from the majority's lack of engagement that they don't even pretend to care what's important to the 3 million plus Illinoisans that we represent."
Pritzker: "Republicans are acting irresponsibly."
Still, Pritzker argues the state is taking on structural debt by eliminating some corporate tax incentives. Republicans hoped to keep all of those in place, but Pritzker said those loopholes needed to go.
"It really is the Democrats that are demonstrating that we're operating in a responsible fashion in regards to our budget. Republicans are acting irresponsibly," Pritzker said. "They wanted to spend the one-time federal money to cover for their corporate benefactors. I'm surprised by that, but that's what they wanted to do. They were wrong, and they lost on that issue."
Republicans quickly found Democrats put $1 billion towards infrastructure projects in their districts. However, they claim GOP members were never asked about projects for their regions.
"How could they with a straight face say they did their job? They were putting projects in," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin. "We don't even know whether those are going to be in their current districts or new districts. Of course they're going to vote on the budget when you've got a billion of pork that's backed up with their votes."
Pritzker said Republicans had every opportunity to ask appropriations chairs for consideration of funding for their projects. He noted that never happened, and Republicans shouldn't use this as a talking point. Durkin told reporters that no GOP members would accept money for "pork projects" either.
Energy legislation on the line
While lawmakers passed hundreds of bills through both chambers during their last week of session, they couldn't approve a clean energy plan. Democrats and Republicans have discussed several proposals to improve the state's energy outlook over several years. Those discussions heated up over recent months, intending to have legislation on Pritzker's desk by the end of May.
Now, everything depends on a new plan the Pritzker administration tried to push until the final minutes of session. Time is essential as several power plants across Illinois are set to close soon. Pritzker says he's fighting to keep those plants open and keep workers in their jobs.
"That's the goal here. We want to keep that electricity flowing from those plants, we want to keep those people employed," Pritzker explained. "We also want to address climate change. That's another big part of this bill."
The governor said this plan wouldn't be possible without work from a coalition of labor unions, energy groups, and leaders fighting against climate change. Lawmakers plan on coming back to Springfield in the coming weeks for the energy plan. However, there's no updated bill language filed at this time.
Don't leave downstate out
Downstate lawmakers want to make sure local coal plants aren't cut out of the state's future plans. A bipartisan group stood alongside labor leaders in Springfield Friday afternoon. Rep. Tim Butler (R-Springfield) said negotiators on this energy plan have to think about the little guys.
"We don't have our heads in the sand. We all want to transition to renewables, we all want to transition to that economy," Butler said. "But I want to make sure these guys still have a job. I want to make sure the two hundred plus people at the coal mines still have a job when we get out on the other side of this."