What To Expect From Pritzker’s First Illinois State Budget Plan | WBEZ
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What To Expect From Pritzker’s First Illinois State Budget Plan

Newly sworn-in Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker will give his take on the state’s finances Wednesday as he lays out his budget proposal for the next year. Pritzker’s noon speech is expected to highlight the state’s dire fiscal picture, while also proposing new streams of revenue and a boost in education funding, according to an administration source.

During his campaign, Pritzker promised to bring stability to a state that went through an unprecedented two-year budget impasse during the tenure of his predecessor, Gov. Bruce Rauner. Pritzker campaigned on bringing new money to the state by expanding gambling and legalizing recreational marijuana.

Now, after being in office a little more than a month, Pritzker is doubling down.

“We make no little plans, so stay tuned,” an optimistic Pritzker said of his budget proposal on Tuesday. He spoke from the governor’s mansion in Springfield during a ceremony celebrating his signature on a measure that raises the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour by 2025.

Education

Pritzker is expected to propose boosting education funding by funneling more money into Illinois’ new method of funding primary and secondary education. He’s aiming to direct $375 million through the funding formula, which targets new dollars to the state’s neediest school districts, according to an administration source. This is $25 million over what the state approved last year.

He’s also expected to push for a $100 million grant for early childhood education and $50 million more for MAP grants — a need-based program that awards college scholarships to low-income students that saw its funding frozen at times during the two-year budget impasse.

Pensions

An aide to Pritzker recently publicly outlined a plan to borrow $2 billion to inject into Illinois’ vastly underfunded pension systems. Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes said Pritzker also intends to pledge $200 million annually from new revenues generated by replacing the state’s flat income tax with a tax structure that will have sliding tax rates based on income. That change to a graduated income tax, however, is entirely contingent on changing the state’s constitution.

Hynes also suggested the administration is investigating whether to sell state-owned assets as a way to infuse new money into the pension systems. The state’s pension debt tops $130 billion.

Perhaps the most controversial aspect of his pension plan is extending the deadline beyond 2045 to get the state’s pension systems funded at 90 percent. They now have only about 40 percent of the assets needed in order to meet current and future pension obligations. Pritzker wants to extend that deadline by seven years.

Doing so would reduce annual payments the state would have to make to its five pension systems, though similar, so-called pension holidays in the past have worsened the systems’ underfunding problems and drawn the ire of credit-rating agencies.

Quincy

During his campaign for governor, Pritzker frequently attacked his predecessor’s handling of multiple Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks at a state-run veterans’ home in downstate Quincy, Ill. The families of 12 residents are suing the state for neglect over their loved ones’ deaths. Legislators overrode a veto from Rauner to raise the limit of what those families could win in their lawsuits, from $100,000 to $2 million.

Chicago attorney Steven Jambois, who represents one of those 12 families, told WBEZ Tuesday that those settlement negotiations have just begun. Jambois said he’s demanding the full $2 million for his client, the family of Valdemar Dehn, a Korean War veteran who died in 2017 — two years after the first Legionnaires’ outbreak at the Quincy home.

“How does one evaluate the value for that? Particularly on our case, he was one of the last persons to die and clearly in our mind the most preventable of all the deaths, since they clearly had sufficient notice,” Jambois said.

In addition, Pritzker vowed during the campaign to continue Rauner’s plan to rebuild the Quincy veterans’ home. Last year, lawmakers put $53 million as a down payment toward construction. Rauner estimated the total spending on a new veterans’ home in Quincy could cost about $245 million.

Revenue

Pritzker hung many of his campaign spending promises on the hopes that the state would eventually fundamentally change its income tax structure from the current 4.95 percent flat tax to a graduated income tax. Pritzker repeatedly refused to outline what families and individuals could expect to pay the state if the Illinois Constitution were changed and such a tax were implemented.

In addition, Pritzker has heavily advocated for the legalization and taxation of the recreational use of marijuana and sports gambling as a way to pay for his campaign promises.

Infrastructure

It’s been 10 years since Illinois last had a multibillion-dollar pool of dollars to construct new roads, bridges and buildings so the push is on for a new capital program this spring.

As a candidate for governor, Pritzker campaigned on the issue, pledging to invest in roads, rail, high-speed broadband and new water lines to eliminate lead contamination.

His push for new construction dollars gained new urgency after last week’s surprise shutdown of a stretch of Lake Shore Drive because of failed beam supports exposed the potential dangers of aging infrastructure.

Look for Pritzker to lay out the size of an infrastructure package Wednesday and to outline new revenue streams to float long-term borrowing to pay for it.

Tony Arnold and Dave McKinney cover Illinois politics for WBEZ. Follow them @tonyjarnold and @davemckinney.

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