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SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers will be working until at least Saturday to finalize a state budget expected to include a boost in education spending and “tools” to manage the skyrocketing costs of a program providing health care to mostly undocumented immigrants.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democratic legislative leaders announced Wednesday afternoon that they had agreed on the $50.5 billion spending plan. Flanked by Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, Pritzker announced the tentative agreement five days after lingering budget talks caused state lawmakers to miss their self-imposed deadline to adjourn the spring legislative session.
As of Thursday afternoon, lawmakers were still sorting through the fine print of the 3,409-page proposal, which dropped around 9 p.m. Wednesday. Some changes were expected though most indicated the framework would remain the same. However, the last-minute negotiations and hangups pushed lawmakers off their initial goal of wrapping up by Friday.
The delays have come despite Democrats controlling the governor’s office and holding supermajorities in the legislature. However, the leaders said there was no discord — at least beyond the natural friction between the different chambers and branches of government.
“The trust among the three of us is at an all-time high, and I’m looking forward to finalizing this budget without any deviation from that,” Harmon said.
Since Illinois Senate adjourned Wednesday evening without voting on the proposal, the earliest the House can vote on it is Saturday.
Many rank-and-file House Democrats had not reviewed the budget before the agreement was announced by Pritzker, Harmon and Welch.
“We are going to be working through a number of questions pertaining to individual line items in the budget,” said state Rep. Will Guzzardi, D-Chicago, in an interview Wednesday night. “All of us are going to go home and do our Control+Fs and look for our specific items, and there will be some changes, I’m sure, to some of those individual items between now and when the budget gets passed.”
The framework that was announced is not expected to change significantly. Pritzker told reporters Wednesday afternoon that he “will be proud to sign this budget when it arrives on my desk.”
“Like the past four budgets, this budget looks toward the 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,” Pritzker said. “A future where every Illinoisan has a safe place to call home and a safe community to live in. A future where economic security means the opportunity for anyone and everyone to prosper.”
In the weeks leading up to the end of the spring session, the biggest hangup had been finding compromise on how to cover the health care program, which provides coverage to adults over the age of 42 who are ineligible for Medicaid because they are not U.S. citizens.
The Department of Health and Family Services has warned that the program will cost $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2024, far more than the $221 million allocated for the program in Pritzker’s initial budget proposal.
Under the current framework, $550 million would be allocated towards the health care program, according to the Pritzker spokesman Alex Gough. It would also authorize the Pritzker administration to take steps to control the program’s cost.
“We’re continuing the program going forward, but in a budget-friendly way so that everybody gets the health care that they need,” Pritzker said on Wednesday.
Though state Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, cautioned Thursday morning that they were not sure how much would be spent on the program in the next fiscal year as the cost-containment strategies outlined have yet to be adopted via administrative rule.
Gough said strategies to control the costs of the program could include limiting future enrollment, copays, seeking every federal dollar available and a possible move to managed care.
“By using these tools, Gov. Pritzker is confident we’ll be able to responsibly manage this program and preserve healthcare for more than 50,000 people who are already a part of the program,” Gough said.
Besides that, the top lines of the spending plan, which covers the fiscal year that begins July 1, appeared similar to the $49.6 billion proposal Pritzker unveiled in February.
The plan includes nearly $1 billion in new spending on education, including $250 million to expand access to early childhood education. The outlay is expected to create 5,000 new pre-K spots for low-income children and is considered a down payment on a multi-year plan, dubbed “Smart Start Illinois,” aimed at providing every child with access to pre-K.
At the other end of the spectrum, the budget would increase funding for the Monetary Assistance Program (MAP), a state-funded, need-based grant awarded to Illinois college students, by $100 million.
This investment, administration officials say, coupled with federal Pell grants, would make community college free to nearly all Illinois residents at or below median income level. More than 40% of working class public university students would also have their tuition and fees covered via this combination.
As has been the case in every budget Pritzker has signed, it includes the full annual $350 million increase for K-12 education funding called for under the 2018 evidence-based formula law, which seeks to narrow the disparity in funding between low- and high-income school districts.
“I think what we saw in the document reflects the priorities of the House Democrats and given that it is being led by the Senate, it required an act of trust for us to work with our partners in the Senate and see our priorities reflected and I think that trust was rewarded,” Guzzardi said.
Other budget highlights include a $100 million increase for public universities; an $85 million increase in the funds allocated towards homelessness prevention, affordable housing and outreach; $20 million for an initiative to expand grocery store access in urban neighborhoods and rural communities that are currently food deserts; and $400 million for a “closing fund” that officials say will help seal the deal in luring large businesses to the state.
An additional $112.5 million is being transferred into the Local Government Distributive Fund, which is the share of the state income tax reserved for cities and counties. This increases the local share from 6.16% to 6.47%. Municipalities initially sought a restoration to 10%.
Direct service professionals, who work in group homes that serve people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, will see their hourly rate increase $2.50. The increase was originally slated to be $2 but was upped after pushback from advocacy groups. Though it is less than their original $4 per hour ask.
“Those sorts of things I knew were prioritized in different subcaucuses,” said state Rep. Sharon Chung, D-Bloomington. “And I’m happy to see those things being addressed in the budget along with a lot of the things that the governor laid out in his budget address.”
In addition, the budget includes an additional $200 million payment towards the state’s pension system beyond what’s statutorily required.
Revenue under the proposal is projected at $50.7 billion. Democratic leaders insisted the state would live within its means and that the proposal reflects that.
“This budget is balanced without gimmicks,” Welch said.
Legislators the past few months have had to reconcile with a far less rosy revenue picture than earlier this year.
Earlier this month, the state’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability revised its revenue forecast for the current budget year down $728 million to $51.2 billion.
The downturn in tax receipts in the final months of the current budget year essentially erases a surplus that lawmakers were hoping could be used for a number of those resource-starved programs and gave them much less flexibility than they had during the last budget process.
But the new revenue numbers were in the same ballpark as the ones Pritzker based his February proposal on. The administration has been deliberately conservative in its revenue projections, factoring in a possible recession in the coming fiscal year and that the spikes in revenue the past couple of years were largely one-time in nature.
“The agreement we’ve reached will produce another responsible balanced budget that reinforces our state’s economic stability while making progress on key issues for the people of Illinois,” Harmon said.
Republicans were largely shut out of budget negotiations, especially in the House. However, Harmon held out hope that some Republican votes could be achieved.
Lee Enterprises’ Erin Henkel contributed to this report.
This story will be updated.
Photos: Pritzker sworn in for second term
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May 25, 2023 at 04:43PM