Eye On Illinois: Service agencies push back on Pritzker’s budget as falling short


The balance of success versus failure is subjective. Goals of politics and government diverge.

Take those variables, toss in the combination of a budget address and state of the state speech, and it’s impossible to come away from this week completely satisfied with Gov. JB Pritzker’s performance.

In 6,200 words Wednesday, Pritzker primarily struck an optimistic tone. He set aside time to be self congratulatory and to express defiance toward unnamed challenges to “common American values.”

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland

It’s fair to haggle over whether the last four budgets meet the textbook definition of “balanced,” but Pritzker cited indisputable financial successes. That we once faced $17 billion in overdue bills is absolutely staggering, and the governor should be proud to run on a record of fixing that and other significant fiscal challenges.

Pritzker himself defined fiscal responsibility as “an annual effort that requires persistence” and “conservative revenue estimates.” The absence of that responsibility, he said, is “trauma and chaos for the people we serve,” which isn’t fear-mongering but a sober assessment of the mid-2010s.

Although Pritzker’s first term delivered on several 2018 campaign promises, voters rejected his effort to overhaul the state’s income tax system. He barely said the word tax Wednesday. Instead, he offered more details for Smart Start Illinois, a four-part approach to early childhood development.

Early intervention and preventive efforts remain an important, efficient means of reducing strain on government’s more reactive services: child protection, criminal justice and treatment for mental health, physical and substance abuse and more. Pritzker’s plan follows that blueprint, and his speech touched on larger connections with the economy, such as how reforms to compensation for child care providers can allow more people to pursue employment.

But for all his ambition, Pritzker hasn’t fully detailed plans to correct lasting, systemic deficiencies within the Department of Childcare and Family Services and the Department of Human Services. While such issues long predate Pritzker’s tenure, unfixed problems will emphatically ballast any pride in the progressive or fiscal successes for which his administration seeks credit.

“One of the most difficult challenges we face right now in the field of social and mental health services are the critical worker shortages we are seeing across the country,” Pritzker said, proposing an extra $120 million to DHS and continued support for raises for private sector DCFS partners.

But both the Illinois Partners for Human Service (“far from where we need to be”) and Illinois Association for Behavioral Health (“will advocate vigorously to align spending with the speech’s ambitious sentiments”) showed the type of pushback Pritzker can expect from friendly corners. His regular critics won’t pull punches.

Underneath everything are real Illinois and facing serious struggles seeking legitimate help. How long must they wait?

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on Twitter @sth749. He can be reached at sholland@shawmedia.com.

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February 18, 2023 at 05:18AM

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