Illinois House Democrats provide update on FY 23 budget

Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris talks with reporters on February 24, 2022.
Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris talks with reporters on February 24, 2022.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Feb. 24, 2022 at 4:39 PM CST
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - The legislative budget process is underway in Springfield as lawmakers hope to have their financial plan for Fiscal Year 2023 passed by April 8.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago) explained Thursday that appropriations committees are talking with each state agency to discuss requests in the budget. Both chambers are also closely watching sudden shifts in the state’s revenue projections, for the good and the bad.

Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed tax relief plan included in the budget relief on the unprecedented revenue. However, Harris said members must be careful with using that money.

“We’re gonna still continue to look at the more conservative side of the numbers because we know that things can go south pretty fast if there’s another variant or something else comes up,” Harris said. “And we want to be sure we plan for those contingencies.”

Harris noted that this budget should pay pension obligations and re-pay interfund borrowing with the one-time revenues from the federal government’s American Rescue Plan. Democrats also plan on putting $800 million into the state’s rainy day fund to prepare for any future financial emergencies.

Pritzker’s budget proposal also calls for major investments in public safety, including $18.6 million to help 300 cadets graduate and become Illinois State Police, $5.4 million for new forensic equipment used during investigations, and millions of dollars for police training. Harris also highlighted a proposed $250 million investment in evidence-based violence prevention strategies.

Another area in the budget is funding for mental health services. Members of both parties have acknowledged the toll this pandemic has taken on mental health, from those living in isolation to children struggling to keep up in school. Harris noted that suicides are up 200% since the start of the pandemic and cases of people dying from overdose have gone up 33% during that same time. Although, the waitlist for mental health care continues to grow.

“There’s 4,000 vacant positions in community health centers and substance abuse treatment centers across the state,” Harris said. “One of the things people are really supportive of in the governor’s introduced budget is this new major investment of $130 million into the workforce and into mental health treatment and substance abuse treatment. It can eliminate the waitlist, fully staff community-based service agencies, and begin to provide rapid trauma-informed care to people when they are in crisis.”

Lawmakers are also faced with the question of how to best use federal funds to assist industries that were hit hard by the pandemic. Harris explained organizations have already submitted requests for funding to help hospitals, restaurants, hotels, theaters, and affordable housing. He noted that there is a great financial need, but the resources are constrained.

Many are also focused on addressing growing debt in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The deficit in the critical fund has already reached $4.2 billion. Lawmakers in both chambers have suggested using some of the American Rescue Plan funds to fill that hole before it becomes larger. A working group of Democrats, Republicans, and leaders from the business and labor community have consistently met with the Pritzker administration to try and find a solution to that issue.

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