Wednesday was supposed to be the day for all eyes on Gov. J.B. Pritzker, with his first in-person state of the state and budget address since the start of the pandemic.
He’d planned a headline-grabbing address, with election-year plums of temporary relief on the gas excise tax, and a 1% tax on groceries sure to elicit applause from the audience of majority Democratic legislators.
Instead, Pritzker had to pivot not because of the pandemic, but because of the snow.
The legislature canceled its in-person action for the week, and Pritzker on Tuesday issued a disaster declaration in advance of Winter Storm Landon, which activates the state emergency response network.
“I was excited to have the legislature back in, and being able to speak to a live audience,” Pritzker said at a news conference announcing the state’s storm plans. “Nevertheless, here we are, and what I am excited about is delivering the message, and of course, it’ll be delivered to the people of Illinois. And legislators no doubt will be tuning in.”
Rather than give his speech before the General Assembly from a packed House chamber, Pritzker at noon Wednesday will appear from the smaller chambers of the Old State Capitol, the statehouse in use during President Abraham Lincoln’s day as a state lawmaker.
The Old State Capitol more recently served as the backdrop for then U.S. Senator Barack Obama’s 2007 announcement he was running for President.
Pritzker’s budget address isn’t officially a campaign event, but critics say the menu of one-time tax relief provisions appear to be gimmicks cooked up for his reelection bid.
“Absolutely (they’re gimmicks) with a capital G,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said. “At the end of the day, when all is said and done, it’s really not going to help out the middle class at all because they are so, they’re being crushed with the rising cost of inflation. And these gimmicks, as I said – whatever the governor wants to call them – are not going to be able to cut into what the average American is paying right now for goods and services based on rising inflation.”
Durkin did not directly answer when asked whether he’ll nonetheless support the moves, saying that Pritzker has a “credibility problem” because in 2020 the governor said Illinois would face drastic cuts if voters failed to approve his constitutional amendment allowing for a graduated income tax.
Voters resoundingly rejected the change.
“So now the governor’s saying ‘everything’s fine, and everything’s great.’ So there’s a credibility issue that I have, and a number of people in this (the capitol) building have with the governor when he talks about state finances,” Durkin said. “So I’ll listen tomorrow, but I’m going to be listening in a very guarded position.”
Durkin said Illinois needs permanent tax relief, which could be achieved through structural changes that he said Pritzker’s proposal doesn’t contemplate.
“There’s nothing in here that deals with the structural problems that we have within the state of Illinois,” Durkin said.
Durkin also said the governor needs to address violence, given that the “single biggest problem we have in this state is public safety.”
Pritzker alluded Tuesday that he will propose dedicating additional funding for violence prevention programs.
The “family relief plan” calls for three one-time tax relief moves: giving homeowners an additional 5% rebate on their property taxes up to $300, lifting for one year a 1% tax on groceries and keeping steady the state motor fuel tax, which otherwise would rise by about 2 cents a gallon because it’s tied to the Consumer Price Index.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Pritzker signed the law that ties inflation to the gas tax, and Pritzker said he stands by that practice – just not this time.
“That (scaling the tax to CPI) is actually a responsible thing to do, it should have been done back in the early ‘90s when the gas tax was put in place,” Pritzker said. “But let me be clear right now, because we have seen inflation flare up and because people are suffering the consequences of higher prices, I thought it was important to find different ways that we could lower the prices of all kinds of goods.”
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