Governor focuses on paying down debt, funding education for 2024 budget
Dems align with those priorities, Republicans caution against overspending
SPRINGFIELD (25 News Now) - Setting the stage for how the state of Illinois will spend billions in taxpayer dollars, Governor JB Pritzker said in his address to the General Assembly he will shift focus to investing in statewide education.
The Governor’s Office of Management and Budget estimates $49.6 billion in taxpayer dollars will be at the legislature’s discretion.
Pritzker highlighted the difference in current budget proposals to what he saw when first entered office shortly following the budget impasse. Billions in debt from College Illinois, the Unemployment Trust Fund and the bill backlog have all been completely paid down or significantly reduced.
Most of that progress occurred right before Pritzker’s re-election last November. In the past budget, Illinois enjoyed a surplus, in part due to federal emergency COVID-19 funds, as well as increased tax revenue due to increase spending among Illinoisans.
In the year since, as inflation continued to rise and stimulus checks went away, two state agencies responsible for anticipating the six of the state’s budget and economy anticipate a nationwide economic slowdown that will trickle into state revenues.
Pritzker argued in his remarks that “continued” and “consistent” balanced budgets will provide stability and potential growth for the state.
“Fiscal responsibility isn’t easy, nor is it a one-time fix. It’s an annual effort that requires persistence. It requires conservative revenue estimates, as all of my budget proposals have,” Pritzker said in his prepared remarks. “But when done right, consistent balanced budgets strengthen the institutions our residents rely upon, creates new opportunities for success, and makes life easier for the people of Illinois.”
Republican lawmakers are concerned the investments are biting off more than the state can chew.
“My biggest concern is we are locking ourselves into long-term spending that we may not be able to cover,” top Republican budget negotiator Norine Hammond said. “When you do that you make promises to people and they expect those services to be there for them.”
Other Republican lawmakers echoed those concerns. They are also asking for immediate relief for families struggling to afford rising gas and electric costs. Utility costs were not addressed in the governor’s plan. A law was passed to provide $200 million in reimbursements to Ameren Illinois customers according to Senate Republicans, but that law received no funding in the previous year’s budget.
Other Democrats are aligned with the governor in the investments the state plans to make. Peoria-area Representative Jehan Gordon Booth will lead negotiations for the Democrats throughout the spring sessions.
“We’re going to be smart about this process,” Gordon Booth said. “We are standing on solid ground specific to the decisions we have made over the last four years and we want to continue in that vein.”
Below are some highlights of the Governor’s proposal.
Among other highlights of his proposed budget plan, Pritzker is initiating the Smart Start Illinois investment in early childhood education.
The multi-year proposal would start with a multi-million-dollar deposit to the Illinois State Board of Education, aimed at increasing available preschools in the state. Additional funds intend to “stabilize” and “promote quality” in childcare centers by providing grants to help with operating costs.
The proposed budget also sets aside $1.6 million to launch Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library literacy program statewide.
Beyond early childhood, Pritzker’s proposal included a more than $500 million increase towards ISBE for K through 12 schools. Beyond additional investment, he called for the launch of a three-year program using $70 million to create a teacher pipeline. The pipeline and funds will be allocated to the 170 school districts that have a combined 2,800-plus vacancies.
“There are some opportunities to work together – especially on providing more access to early childhood education and childcare,” Senate Republican Leader John Curran (Downers Grove) said on the budget. “However, I would like to see a greater prioritization for our developmentally disabled communities that continue to be massively underfunded.”
In his inaugural address, Pritzker said he wants to make college education free for working families. In his budget proposal, free education appears to come from increasing Monetary Award Program funding by $100 million. That will allow more funds to get dispersed to community college students and eligible state school students. Pritzker proposes that will cover tuition and fees for some students using combined MAP and Pell grants.
“If we want the next generation to be able to compete, these investments in higher education go a long way, especially for our students who wish to attend college in Illinois,” Sen. Dave Koehler (D - Peoria) said.
Looking to reduce homelessness
Through increased funding to the Department of Human Services, the governor’s office looks to address homelessness in the state.
Nearly half of the $350 million total funding for DHS will work to provide shelter for the homeless in Illinois according to the governor’s proposal. A portion of funds, $26 million, will start preventative services for about 5,000 at risk for homelessness.
Public safety and violence prevention
While two separate laws aimed at improving public safety await final judgement in the Illinois Courts, Pritzker’s budget proposal is asking for money to increase hiring for Illinois State Police and the Department of Corrections.
His proposal also allocates $30 million to make body cameras more affordable for local law enforcement agencies, as well as $10 million to recruit and retain officers on a local level.
Beyond officers, the funding proposal includes $5 million for nutritional improvements at correctional facilities.
“We’ve beefed up support for law enforcement to reduce crime,” Pritzker said in his prepared remarks, citing the state’s seizure of nearly 700 firearms and 13 tons of drugs statewide.
The controversial SAFE-T act escaped notice in Pritzker’s address. The law is set to end cash bail in the state but is tied up in the Illinois Supreme Court to determine if eliminating cash bail is constitutional. The other law aimed at reducing gun violence, the assault weapon ban, did not get mentioned in the address either. That law is also waiting for the Supreme Court to decide its fate.
“While I do appreciate the prioritization of funding for Illinois State Police included in the governor’s proposal, we must also not forget to fund downstate fire, police, EMS, and dispatchers that are so vital to our communities,” Sen. Neil Anderson (R - Andalusia). Anderson also criticized the amount of spending in the budget.
Electric vehicles manufacturing and purchase
In addition to other areas of growth in Illinois’ economy, several budget items across departments are aimed an improving electric usage on the roads.
The proposal asks to create job training for clean energy career and technical education starting in high school. The job sector continues to grow, but the labor market remains tight with workers seeking other opportunities.
“I believe in my heart that Illinois has the potential to be competitive once again, but it requires both parties coming to the table to work on reforms that will bring families and job creators to Illinois instead of driving them away,” Republican Senator Win Stoller (Germantown Hills) said.
Additionally, in the budget for the Environmental Protection Agency, he’s proposing more electric vehicle rebates, totaling $20.5 million in the state.
“Manufacturers like Rivian Automotive bring new and exciting products in Illinois while promoting new job opportunities in our communities,” Koehler said. “I was pleased to see that this budget proposal prioritizes training and educating our workers for careers that sustain families and grow our economy. These training programs will continue to expand our workforce for years to come.”
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