Editorial: A lot to like in new Illinois budget

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A week ago, lawmakers in Springfield approved a $46.5 billion budget. The process wasn’t pretty, and there was the usual back-room lack of transparency. But in the end, we see a lot to like about the state’s fiscal year 2023 spending plan.

Buoyed by increasing revenues, the budget keeps its commitment to fully fund the shift to the evidence-based K-12 funding formula approved a few years ago, a move that should have a meaningful impact on local property taxes and create more equity in education; the budget also pays down bills and makes an advance payment on the state’s pension obligations; it even deposits $1 billion into the state’s rainy day fund.

The plan also adds $200 million to try to fight crime, and on top of that, it gives taxpayers $1.8 billion in tax breaks.

The state still has to come up with the money to pay off the debt in its unemployment insurance trust fund, but it’s made an installment on that. The state also is being helped by an unexpected surge in revenues that surely will attenuate, as well as temporary federal coronavirus money.

Still, we think Illinoisans ought to take some satisfaction from this plan.

This isn’t the kind of budget that we imagine Gov. JB Pritzker originally wanted. After all, his plan had been to raise revenue through a graduated income tax that would have drawn more money from upper-income Illinoisans. That was rejected by voters who didn’t trust the state.

We think budgets like this one help in rebuilding that trust, however, and while there still is a lot of work to be done, we recognize Illinois didn’t get into this position overnight; it won’t get out of it quickly, either

As we read the reports about the budget, some bond rating analysts say the plan may lead to a boost in Illinois’ low credit rating. For a state that couldn’t even pass a budget not that long ago, we think that’s good news.

Everybody realizes the state still has big, long-term challenges. And smart fiscal analysts have argued that Springfield needs to develop a long-term budgeting plan that tries to plan for the future when economic conditions will inevitably change.

As for the tax cuts, Republican lawmakers have been complaining they are only temporary and are geared at helping majority Democrats at the ballot box this year.

We can’t argue with that. (Although we note that Republicans by and large still voted for the tax cuts.)

The idea that these cuts were crafted with the voters in mind shouldn’t be surprising. To some extent, it should be expected. (That said, we do think the provision requiring filling stations to post a sign notifying customers of a delay in the planned implementation of a 2.2-cent increase in the state gas tax is ridiculous. We hope the fuel and retailers association follows through with a lawsuit challenging the provision.)

Frankly, we wouldn’t have been put off if lawmakers had let the gas tax increase go into effect and used the money for its long-term obligations. But as residents of a border community, we can’t look too askance at details of the tax cut package. We’ve said previously that we’re especially supportive of the property tax break, and we’re happy that was included. The rebate of up to $300 will surely help in an area that only needs look across the river at Iowa to see far lower real estate levies.

We’ve long said that this area will grow best when both sides of the river are healthy and thriving, and we think the property tax imbalance is not only bad for the people of the Illinois Quad-Cities, but it also is not healthy for the region as a whole.

Now, state lawmakers and the governor will take this budget to the people. It is but one issue that voters will have to consider when they cast ballots this year. But, on balance, we think it is a plus for the state and for those who supported it.

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Region: Northern,City: Quad Cities,Region: QC,Opinion

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April 17, 2022 at 01:48AM

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