Pritzker Expects Feds Will Help Illinois Offset COVID-19’s Budget Hit

COVID-19 Official Updates Pritzker V2
AP Photo / WBEZ
COVID-19 Official Updates Pritzker V2
AP Photo / WBEZ

Pritzker Expects Feds Will Help Illinois Offset COVID-19’s Budget Hit

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Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker said Sunday he was optimistic about getting federal funding to help the state’s long-troubled finances, citing the drop in revenues caused by the coronavirus outbreak and the rising cost of providing assistance in response to the pandemic.

That expectation, Pritzker said, arose from regular updates he receives from federal elected officials in Washington, including a phone conversation on Saturday with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and information from Sen. Dick Durbin, the assistant minority leader from Illinois.

“It looks like, you know, there is real support on the Republican side and near-unanimous support of the Democratic side for support for the states,” Pritzker said at his daily news conference on the state’s pandemic response.

The comments from the Democratic governor came less than a week after President Donald Trump echoed other top national Republicans in questioning the merits of Illinois’ case for federal funding.

In a tweet Monday, the president wrote, “Why should the people and taxpayers of America be bailing out poorly run states (like Illinois, as example) and cities, in all cases Democrat run and managed, when most of the other states are not looking for bailout help?”

But at his news conference and in a national TV appearance on Sunday, Pritzker fired back, saying virtually every state wants help. The first-term governor noted that the closures of businesses to stop the spread of the coronavirus would result in a huge – though not yet quantified – impact on state finances.

“We should try to leave politics out of this,” Pritzker said.

Republicans have pointed out that Illinois had a massive pension shortfall long before the pandemic hit. And some have argued that the state should not get federal help now if it plans to use any stimulus money from Congress to deal with the pension problem.

Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, sent a letter to Durbin last month asking for $41 billion in federal aid, including $10 billion in “pension relief, directly for the state’s retirement systems.”

But Pritzker has said his request to Washington differed from what Harmon laid out in his letter. And on Sunday, the governor said he had not requested anything more than the same thing other states are asking for in the wake of the pandemic.

“All we’ve asked for — and frankly the other 49 states, too, as far as I know — is just help to replace those revenues that we all lost as a result of this invisible killer,” Pritzker said on CBS’ “Face The Nation.”

He said revenues for the state dropped in the last couple months as businesses have been shut down, while spending on social services and health care is up.

Dan Mihalopoulos is a reporter on WBEZ’s Government & Politics Team.