Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Democratic legislative leaders reach deal on $50 billion budget

SPRINGFIELD — Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the leaders of the Illinois legislature announced Wednesday that they have reached a deal on a roughly $50 billion state budget, which they plan to bring before the Senate for a vote later in the day.

The deal comes after lawmakers missed a self-imposed Friday deadline for approving a spending plan amid dissension among Democrats, who control the governor’s office and both legislative chambers, over how to balance the ballooning cost of a health care program for immigrants with other party priorities.

The deal Pritzker announced in his ceremonial statehouse office alongside the Democratic legislative leaders, Senate President Don Harmon of Oak Park and Democratic House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch of Hillside, makes good on the governor’s proposals to expand access to early childhood and higher education, among other priorities.

Illinois State Representative Emanuel "Chris" Welch, flanked by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, and Senate President Don Harmon, speaks during a press conference outside his office in Springfield, on April 7, 2022.

Illinois State Representative Emanuel “Chris” Welch, flanked by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, left, and Senate President Don Harmon, speaks during a press conference outside his office in Springfield, on April 7, 2022. (Antonio Perez / Chicago Tribune)

The cost of the Medicaid-style program that covers immigrants 42 and older who are in the country without legal permission or who have green cards but haven’t completed a five-year waiting period and therefore don’t qualify for the traditional insurance program for the poor will continue to put pressure on the state budget.

The spending plan Pritzker proposed in February pegged the cost of the program at $220 million, but his administration later increased that estimate to $1.1 billion, though some Democratic lawmakers and advocates questioned those projections.

The deal allocates about $550 million for the program, according to the governor’s office, and gives the administration “tools” to control the costs.

Pritzker agreed to assume any political liabilities for controlling future costs of the health care program after Democratic lawmakers refused to cut funding in other programs or enact the governor’s recommended  cost controls, such as co-pays or income limitations, themselves.

“The Senate and the House have agreed to give us the tools to manage the program properly,” Pritzker said, adding that it “allows us to provide health care for the people who are now on the program and make sure that we’re continuing the program going forward, but in a budget friendly way so that everybody gets the healthcare they need.”

Pritzker, eyeing a potential future run for president, had been reticent to put limitations on a program highly prized by members of the Latino caucus who had actually wanted to see it expanded for younger immigrants. That expansion was among the first budget wishes that was rejected but it’s unclear if program supporters will be satisfied by the cost controls Pritzker ends up enacting.

Some Democratic lawmakers also had been pushing to increase spending in other areas, including funding for elementary and high schools. The budget deal would increase overall school funding by $350 million over the current year, an annual goal established in state law, but doesn’t go beyond that as some had hoped.

There’s also pressure from new Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson to increase state support for the city’s effort to provide services to migrants arriving from the country’s southern border. Pritzker would not say how much money the budget deal includes to help the city with those costs.

The agreement would preserve Pritzker’s top priority, a $250 million proposal to boost services for the state’s youngest residents and their families, including an expansion of state-funded preschool programs.

Complicating matters, tax revenue flowing into state coffers has begun to slow from the record levels seen last year, putting pressure on the top Democrats in Springfield to hold the line on spending while also funding lawmakers’ priorities.

In announcing the deal, Pritzker emphasized that the spending plan was balanced and included the education funding he sought.

“As governor, it’s my job to not just look at what’s right in front of us but to prepare for what’s ahead, five, 10, 50 years down the road,” Pritzker said. “And like the past four budgets, this budget look towards a future, a future where every child gets a quality education from cradle to career and where every parent has access to the childcare and training that they need to get a better paying job, a future where every Illinoisan has a safe place to call home, a safe community to live in, a future where economic security means the opportunity for anyone and everyone to prosper.”

Pearson reported from Chicago.

Feeds,News,Chi Trib,City: Chicago

via Chicago Tribune

May 24, 2023 at 04:50PM

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