Pritzker, Illinois Democrats Tout State Budget Agreement, But Deal Not Done Yet

A more than $50 billion dollar budget agreement Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the leaders of the legislature trumpeted on Wednesday afternoon isn’t a done deal yet.

A proposal (SB250) outlining their priorities for state spending — including more money for education, from early childhood through higher ed, upticks in Medicaid reimbursements and funding for a variety of programs like anti-violence prevention and healthcare for undocumented residents — was introduced after the top Democrats’ announcement.

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But the Illinois Senate adjourned just before 11 p.m. Wednesday without voting on the plan.

“The Senate filed a budget so it could be reviewed by all parties to make sure that it reflects the agreement. That review is ongoing,” said John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon.

Per the legislative leaders’ arrangement, whatever budget plan passes the Senate is not to be changed by the House.

“Trust among the three of us is at an all-time high,” Harmon said as he stood next to Gov. J.B. Pritzker and House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch.

Mechanically, that means the earliest a budget could pass is Saturday, a day after the House was scheduled to be done with its work.

That’s still ahead of the General Assembly’s traditional May 31 deadline, after which a super-majority of votes are needed.

But the extension marks a second budget delay after lawmakers missed their self-imposed deadline to end their spring session by May 19, even though state government is under one-party control. Democrats hold the governor’s office, and more than enough seats in both legislative chambers to pass a budget at any time without a single Republican vote.

Earlier in the day, Pritzker signaled optimism the job would get done, noting that the framework closely mirrors the budget plan he laid out in February.

“I will be proud to sign this budget when it arrives on my desk,” Pritzker said. “This budget means that we are on a path to eliminating child care deserts, relieving some of the burden on parents who need to work while ensuring kids get quality care. This budget means that every working class Illinoisians can get a community college education tuition free and fee free.”

But as an early indication the agreement wasn’t completely solid, when asked Pritzker was unable to give an exact figure of how much the Fiscal Year 2024 budget will spend.

Also, a spokeswoman for the Senate Republicans refrained from comment because she said “conversations are ongoing at this time.”

The 3,409-page budget filed Wednesday night protects Pritzker’s marquee initiative for the 2024 fiscal year, the Smart Start early childhood initiative. It also provides increases for the Monetary Award Program (MAP) that provides tuition grants to low-income college students, bumps up funding to schools, homelessness prevention, and Department of Children and Family Services staffing and funds a new Children’s Behavioral Health Transformation Initiative.

It also makes the state’s legally required payment to Illinois’ beleaguered pension funds, and invests money in a rainy day fund the state can dip into in the future should there be fiscal turmoil.

While Illinois is beginning to see revenues slow from pandemic-era peaks, Pritzker and the budget’s other drafter say they relied on conservative revenue projections.

“The agreement we’ve reached will produce another responsible, balanced budget that reinforces our state’s economic stability while making progress son key issues for the people of Illinois,” President Harmon said.

They also said it reflects the party’s progressive values.

“It makes smart investments in the services people need and it is compassionate,” Welch said.

The main dispute that had held up an agreement was over a state program that provides healthcare to undocumented residents. The Pritzker administration projects costs it initially set at $220 million soared to $1 billion dollars, more than could be absorbed by the budget barring major reductions to other priorities.

When outlining the framework, Democrats did not include how much it sets aside for the program in the future, but the number will be reined in.

Pritzker said the deal is contingent on the General Assembly giving him “tools” like charging co-pays that will allow him to manage costs from ballooning, “and instead allows us to provide healthcare for the people who are on the program now and make sure that we’re continuing the program going forward but in a budget friendly way so that everybody gets the healthcare that they need,” Pritzker said.

Chicago’s new mayor Brandon Johnson had requested additional state finances to help the city deal with migrants seeking asylum. Pritzker called the situation a “humanitarian crisis” that Illinois has been sending resources to, and said the state will “continue to do all we can.”

Johnson also sought an increase in the share of the state income tax that municipalities receive.

Welch indicated on Wednesday afternoon that the Local Government Distributive Fund will increase, but details were not available about how much more cities are set to get.

The governor said the plan will increase Medicaid reimbursement rates, though not at the level hospitals and other healthcare providers wanted.

The Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, which frontline staff who work with developmentally disabled individuals, came out against the budget. Workers have been advocating for a $4-an-hour wage increase, but said the proposed budget gives them half that, a boost that IARF said will not do enough to bring more people into the profession, therefore prolonging a workforce shortage.

“These are very difficult but rewarding jobs, and we need to pay them more to draw more people into these careers,” IARF President Josh Evans said in a statement.

Senate Republicans are reportedly still in talks. Should they get on board, Pritzker would be able to score a political notch of bipartisan buy-in.

But Illinois Republican Party Chair Don Tracy was dismissive of the deal, issuing a statement that said “this budget constitutes a partisan wish list, not a negotiation. With complete control of government, Illinois Democrats continue to tax and spend.”

Leader of the House GOP Tony McCombie also said she’s disappointed, and bemoaned that the deal breaks “past promises” by not extending a tax credit for research and development and a tax credit given to donors who help low-income students attend private school via the state’s Invest in Kids Scholarship program.

“Today we learned from Gov. Prtizker and Democratic leaders that our shared priorities are not included. I am incredibly disappointed for Illinois families,” McCombie said.

No Republican vote is needed on the budget, however. Democrats have more than enough members in both chambers to pass a budget without any GOP support.

While even some Democratic legislators indicated on Wednesday that they were unaware of details, the governor and legislative leaders appeared confident lawmakers from their party would get on board.

Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky

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