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Central Illinois lawmakers respond to governor’s State of the State and budget proposal

Governor J.B. Pritzker and his ASL Interpreter speaking from the dais of the Old State Capitol.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker and his ASL Interpreter speak Wednesday from the dais of the Old State Capitol in Springfield.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker tried to strike an optimistic tone during Wednesday’s election-year State of the State address. Lawmaker response broke sharply along partisan lines.

The annual address was given from the Old State Capitol in downtown Springfield and was combined with the governor’s budget proposal for the second year in a row. The audience included fellow executive officers and an invited audience of frontline workers.

Since Pritzker took office in 2019, Illinois has received two credit upgrades. Officials also expect the state to end this fiscal year on June 30 with a $1.7 billion surplus — the first time that’s happened in more than 25 years, Pritzker said.

“In my nearly 16 years been in the legislature, I've never seen such an optimistic and wonderful budget. We have not only survived from the past couple of decades, but I think we have succeeded beyond expectations,” said state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria.

A breakdown of the governor’s budget proposal was released earlier Wednesday. Highlights include historic funding of the state’s Pension Stabilization Fund by an additional $500 million, while the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” would receive $879 million by the end of FY2023.

Healthcare focus

Much of Pritzker’s first-term focus has been on the pandemic. Included in his new budget plan are initiatives aimed at expanding the state’s health care workforce.

The plan would pay down nearly $900 million in past-due bills in the state employee health insurance program, and would waive licensing fees for nearly 470,000 frontline health care workers.

Pritzker’s budget also introduced the Pipeline for the Advancement of the Healthcare Workforce (PATH) program. The $25 million program would help community colleges train nurses, technicians and other high-demand health care personnel. It would be modeled after state Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth’s Workforce Equity Initiative.

Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, championed the Workforce Equity Initiative to improve workplace inclusivity and connect underrepresented communities to technical education and skill-based careers.

“Modeling a new health care worker pipeline program after the Workforce Equity Initiative I helped introduce will help us remove barriers to recruit and train new front-line health care workers that are needed,” Gordon-Booth said.

Republicans criticize short-term approach

The budget proposal also introduces temporary relief for taxpayers in the form of the Family Relief Plan. This plan would provide tax rebates to more than two million homeowners in Illinois, a freeze of the state tax on groceries, and a freeze of the planned increase in the gas tax.

“The Family Relief Plan can’t solve all the challenges of global inflation, but we can do our part to alleviate some pressure on working families,” Pritzker said.

The plan proposes $475 million in property tax rebates for families, with a one-time property tax rebate payment to homeowners of 5% of property taxes paid. Taxpayers would receive up to $300 if eligible for a state income tax credit.

Property tax rates are set by local governments. K-12 public schools are the primary beneficiary of those property tax dollars, as well as local governments, libraries, and community colleges.

State Sen. Jason Barickman, R-Bloomington, said “middle-class families deserve permanent tax relief.”

“That drives both families and businesses out of state. (We) asked people why they leave, and people often point to the significant property taxes that they pay in Illinois, which are both high and unpredictable. They grow year after year. We have an opportunity to do something about that at the state level. The governor recognized this in his budget, but his solution is temporary in nature,” said Barickman.

The Family Relief Plan is a one-year plan, set to go into effect July 1, 2022.

The one-time property tax rebate also does not sit well with Republican state Sen. Win Stoller, R-Peoria, who feels it is disingenuous.

“I really think that that is more of an election year gimmick. He's trying to show something to voters … but his true spirit, as he's shown in the past, is all in on tax increases,” said Stoller.

‘Grown-up table’

Other Republicans also were critical of the governor’s remarks.

“Today, the governor painted a very rosy picture of our state’s finances under his leadership. What he failed to say is that recent improvements are NOT because of responsible fiscal policies, but are solely the result of a large federal bailout. We need a long-term plan, not another Band-Aid,” state Rep. Dan Brady, R-Normal, said in a statement.

Pritzker stated in his address that anyone working for the good of Illinois is welcome to be involved in negotiations on the budget this year.

“During this budget cycle especially, seats at the grown-up table will be off limits to those who aren’t working in the public’s best interests,” he said.

In response, state Sen. Sally Turner, R-Lincoln, said: “I don't see a lot of discussion or reaching out to both sides of the aisle to ask, ‘Hey, what do you think about this? How can we make this better?’ And I really would love to see that. And I know the other side has the majority. And I understand that…. but I think we all have that same goal.”

Turner’s district includes parts of Bloomington, Morton, Washington, and Lincoln.

Lawmakers will spend the next several weeks holding committee hearings with state agency officials in order to craft a final budget plan. They are scheduled to wrap up their work by April 8, leaving them time to campaign for reelection ahead of the June 28 primaries.

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Maggie Strahan is a graduate student in the Public Affairs Reporting program at the University of Illinois.