Budget of $ 41 billion, more thorny problems face the Legislature on the last day | Illinois News


By JOHN O’CONNOR, PA political writer

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) – Lawmakers in Illinois on Monday established a state budget of $ 41.3 billion, based on tax revenue sources that rebounded much faster than expected in the wake of the global pandemic and comprising $ 2.5 billion in spending from a multi-year federal relief program.

The plan developed on the scheduled last day of the Legislative Assembly’s spring session incorporates only part of the $ 8 billion Illinois expects in COVID-19 relief funds approved by Congress last winter – but that pot includes $ 1 billion in additional construction projects, a fund known only to Democrats until Monday.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris delivered a balanced budget that also restores the additional $ 350 million for public schools that was pledged each year in a school funding overhaul in 2017, but which Governor JB Pritzker initially said he would have to jump for a second year in a row.

“We are very fortunate that our income has increased,” said Harris, a Democrat from Chicago.

Photos to see – May 2021

The budget could be an unusually easy lift, compared to the rest of the Legislative Assembly’s to-do list, which must be completed by midnight, after which passage of the legislation requires a three-fifths majority vote. . There is a controversial plan to tighten restrictions on gun ownership following the deadly 2019 warehouse shooting in Aurora and an ethics overhaul halted by a pandemic that emerged in bipartisan form early on. Monday evening.

The Senate proposal would bar sitting lawmakers from pressuring other units of government, a practice exposed in a corruption indictment in the fall of 2019, and would create a six-month cooling off period that would end the long-standing practice of a legislator resigning one day and lobbying ex-colleagues the next. But creating a statewide registration system for lobbyists at all levels of government exempts Chicago, which has its own agenda. This raised the question among reporters attending a briefing on the measure regarding conflicting vulnerability opening systems.

“You’d be hard pressed to find a wall that someone can’t find a way around, but it’s a good solid step,” said Senator Ann Gillespie, Democrat of Arlington Heights and chair of the ethics committee . “This extends the ban on lobbying, far more than it has been.”

The budget plan offers a much rosier picture than the “pain” – deep budget cuts – Pritzker predicted they were inevitable after voters strongly rejected his proposed constitutional amendment in November to allow for a progressive system of income tax that would hit the richest hardest and generate an additional $ 3 billion. one year.

Republicans have denounced the ballot initiative as a blank check for freely-spending Democrats, who control both houses of the General Assembly as well as the governor’s office. As revenues continued to beat expectations, they persisted in their claims that Pritzker had more than enough money.

Their reward came in the form of a Pritzker concession to reduce less the incentives for business and job creation they negotiated in 2019 with the Democrat, tax breaks the governor touted at the time. , but now calls unapproachable “loopholes”. Democrats who drafted the budget planned to cut three programs to generate $ 636 million in additional revenue. In February, Pritzker proposed eliminating eight incentive programs to save $ 1 billion.

Sectors of state affected by a pandemic would receive $ 1.5 billion from Illinois’ American Rescue Plan Act allowance. Hundreds of millions of dollars would be earmarked for the Department of Social Services for programs to help the homeless, prevent suicide, counsel school children through last year’s trauma, and provide services “to our people. first responders who have been through a hell of a year and deserve all the support we can give them, “said Harris. The struggling tourism and hospitality industries would receive $ 578 million.

Illinois borrowed $ 5 billion from the federal government to pay unemployment benefits to people displaced by the pandemic. ARPA would provide $ 100 million to pay the interest on this loan, but the principal would wait.

But another huge debt is off the books. The state owed $ 1.2 billion – payable by December 2023 – on a $ 3.2 billion federal loan last summer at the low of the pandemic. Pritzker and the legislative leaders announced 10 days ago that they would pay off this loan sooner, saving $ 100 million in interest.

The ARPA cache is also providing $ 1 billion for additional construction projects as the 2022 election season approaches, money that would be spent in addition to the ongoing $ 51 billion “Rebuild Illinois” infrastructure plan approved in 2019. Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon, the House Republican budget negotiator asked Harris about how projects are chosen. Harris said this is the “normal process” in which lawmakers and state agencies make requests for work to be done.

“So we have $ 1 billion in new capital projects available, but it looks like they were … only eligible for Senate Democratic and House Democratic caucus requests?” Demmer asked.

Harris replied, “Sure, we’d be happy to talk.”

Follow political writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor

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