State lawmakers share hopes for budget ahead of Governor’s statewide address

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 4:25 PM CST
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in Springfield are waiting to see what initiatives will be top priorities for how the state will spend billions in funds.

Republican lawmakers are asking for more immediate relief for families bearing the burden of higher utility costs. Ameren recently proposed a rate increase for both gas and electricity to the Illinois Commerce Commission. That agency will make the final decision on whether those prices can go up or not.

Last session, the General Assembly approved a measure to provide $200 million in reimbursements to Ameren customers. However, they say the law received no funding in the last budget.

“This situation has no sight in end,” Senator Jil Tracy (R - Quincy) said. “Just because it’s summer or winter these bills continue to rise exponentially and we need to address the pain they face.”

House and Senate Republicans also are calling for greater involvement in the budgeting process. Democrats hold a supermajority in both chambers, meaning around 2/3 of all seats in the statehouse are held by Democrats. Bills can be passed largely without Republican support.

Governor JB Pritzker will address a joint General Assembly to kick off the months-long budgeting process. After Pritzker’s address, budgeting will step out of the limelight as lawmakers work out the deal largely behind closed doors. The budget will reappear in spring as legislators debate and vote on the final plan.

In his inaugural address, Pritzker said he wanted to make early childhood education more available and provide a free college education for working families. Senator Dave Koehler (D - Peoria) believes there’s support for that within the party, but the actual amount of money they can take off the college cost depends on what funds are available.

“It depends on the budget, we’re not gonna raise taxes and we’re not going to expand beyond our means,” Koehler said. “I don’t know if free is going to work, but we need to look at our community college system to see what we can do.”

“We have to put more money into early childhood education because that’s the whole foundation of our whole educational system. If we can help young people get off the right start so that they’re ready for kindergarten, ready for a first grade then that makes a big difference,” he continued.

Minority House Leader Tony McCombie (R - Savanna) said she and her caucus are interested to see how the Democratic party plans to fund that initiative.

“We all know that nothing’s free, the intent seems good but how we get there is always the question,” she said. “We’ve had a high-level conversation but haven’t got into the weeds on that.”

She also said the conversations between parties so far have been promising, saying there’s been a continued conversation since the inaugural address.

Peoria-area Representative Jehan Gordon Booth will serve as the lead budget negotiator for Democrats. For Republicans, Rep. Norine Hammond (Macomb) will lead initiatives.

The fiscal outlook for the state is tenuous, much like it is nationwide. Two different state analyses are forecasting economic slowdowns, which could result in less tax revenue for the state. right now, there’s an open dialogue but isn’t sure how much leverage the Republican party will have as conversations continue.

“This is just the beginning, this is just a start,” she said. “Us having a collaborative effort together, isn’t that what we’re all here for?”

The past few years have created billions in surplus for the state. In part, the excess comes from federal funds provided to Illinois because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Individual consumers were also flush with discretionary income at the time due to stimulus checks and an overall rise in consumer spending.

Now, as inflation is on the rise and consumers are saving less and spending more, both the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget and the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability can see it rippling out into state revenues.

At the same time, the state has significantly reduced its fiscal burdens. Over the past year, Illinois has increased the number of funds available in its “rainy day” fund, also called the budget stabilization fund. The state has also paid off the unemployment debt brought on by the number of layoffs and unemployment payouts during the COVID-19 pandemic.