Pritzker’s election-year budget speech promises temporary election-year tax cuts

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Pritzker presents annual budget plan amid winter storm

By JOHN O’CONNOR | AP political writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — Governor JB Pritzker laid out an annual spending plan Wednesday not in the usual pomp of a joint General Assembly session, but in a near-empty chamber during a winter assault on the ‘Illinois.

With inflation soaring and snow falling, Pritzker offered an antidote to the pinch of the wallet, by suspending or offering tax rebates on groceries, gasoline and property. While the budget speech is an official speech mandated by law, it also serves as an unofficial opening to his campaign for a second term.

Pritzker has proposed a general fund budget of $45.4 billion for the year that begins July 1, down 3.4% from the current year. It includes billions of dollars in debt reduction, giving Pritzker leeway to try to ease the pinch of inflation.

Typically, members of the House and Senate would meet in the House chamber to receive spending ideas from the governor, but the three-day winter storm forced legislative leaders to cancel the three-day session scheduled for this week.

Pritzker instead chose to speak on the same stage at the Old State Capitol where Abraham Lincoln worked as a Representative, then delivered the electrifying “House Divided” speech to begin one of the most critical campaigns of his career.

The governor wants to lift the 1% sales tax on groceries for one year, freeze the motor fuel tax used for road construction at 39.2 cents a gallon and offer a rebate of up to at $300 equals the property tax credit available on income taxes.

The 57-year-old Democrat believes he’s on solid ground due to a stronger economy and his administration’s focus on past debt. In November, Pritzker’s budget office reported that current-year tax revenue was $1.7 billion higher than forecast.

The state of the state, said Pritzker, is “strong, unbreakable and enduring”.

Anticipating critics’ stance that the state is awash with billions of dollars in federal COVID-19 aid, Pritzker defended his work to cut costs and pay debts.

“Our state budget surpluses would exist even without the money we received from the federal government,” Pritzker said. “Meticulous work has been done…over the past 3 years to diligently and meticulously reverse the irresponsible decisions of the past and ensure that responsible budgeting becomes the rule, not the exception.”

Moments before, a key Republican challenger to Pritzker in the fall election distributed a press release saying that once federal money runs out, the incumbent Democrat will push through tax increases. Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin is making sure voters remember that Pritzker asked voters to approve a 2020 graduated income tax change to boost income.

“The Tax-Hiker-In-Chief is trying to rewrite history today to mislead Illinois voters in an election year with stuff that relies on a fading federal bailout,” said Irvin, who has yet to appear publicly in his campaign. “We know he plans to raise billions in additional taxes when the federal money runs out.”

Pritzker staff members said that by June 2024, $898 million in outstanding bills for the employee health insurance program will be eliminated. What for the past few years has been a monstrous backlog of bills due to state suppliers — $7 billion on Wednesday — will be reduced to $2.7 billion, which aides say puts the balance on a 21-day payment cycle – which would not be an arrears.

And the leviathan hole in state employee pension funding, about $140 billion, will receive an additional, albeit small, contribution. After years of underfunding, Pritzker and his two predecessors were forced to invest billions more in five retirement systems to catch up with a state law requiring substantially paid-up coverage by 2045. But even the 9 $.6 billion of state law required this year isn’t enough to stay on track, so Pritzker is increasing that by $500 million to achieve what aides call a “watering hole of the tread”.

There are also additional program expenses. The Ministry of Children and Family Services would get a 16% increase, or $200 million, in part to hire 360 ​​additional staff to fill vacancies and improve the workload of workers in the existing child protection. Diedre Silas, a 36-year-old child protection specialist, was stabbed to death during a home visit in January, prompting calls to better protect social workers.

The Department of Social Services would receive an additional $95 million to care for residents with intellectual or developmental disabilities in an ongoing effort to meet the requirements of a federal court order and to increase reimbursements for services, as recommended by a key study published two years ago.

Pritzker will continue to portray himself as the governor who put the state’s finances in order after years of partisan rancor that prevented approval of any budget for two years, leaving debt and devastation in its wake. social services.

But the billionaire philanthropist and equity investor has costly challenges ahead. His 2018 campaign was the second most expensive gubernatorial race in U.S. history, in part due to his opponent’s backing from the state’s richest man, the CEO of Citadel. , Ken Griffin.

Griffin has pledged up to $300 million to defeat Pritzker, and a slate expected to win his support has been assembled, led by Richard Irvin, Aurora’s first black mayor, who announced his candidacy more than two years ago. weeks but has yet to make a public appearance. .

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