Budget advanced by state lawmakers maintains ag funding


Illinois lawmakers were poised to work into the weekend to finalize a state spending package expected to fund key agricultural programs, including a new initiative to expand food access in rural and urban communities.

An agreement to advance the $50.6 billion state budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1 was announced Wednesday afternoon by Gov. J.B. Pritzker and General Assembly leaders, five days after a self-imposed deadline to adjourn the spring legislative session.

And just over 24 hours later, the Illinois Senate late Thursday voted 34-22 to approve the 3,425-page proposal, sending it to the Illinois House.

Because of a state constitutional requirement that a bill be read on the floor on three separate calendar days before it can receive a vote, the House was set to return Friday evening and vote on the legislation early Saturday morning.

That maneuvering came after a week of redirection from legislative leaders who initially planned to wrap up work mid-month, or at least before a May 31 deadline would have required any bill to receive a supermajority vote to be approved.

“There were several times during the week that it was thought that the budget negotiated by the governor, Senate president, Speaker of the House and their budget negotiators would unravel,” said Kevin Semlow, Illinois Farm Bureau director of state legislation.

Partially contributing to the budget negotiations was the absence of an appropriations bill in either chamber until late in the week, Semlow said, adding majority caucuses in the House and Senate were also not seeing eye to eye over the details of how to set spending parameters.

But despite the delays, Pritzker, along with Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside, said there was no widespread strife among legislators over the spending plan.

“The trust among us is at an all-time high and I’m looking forward to finalizing this budget without any deviation from that,” Harmon told reporters Wednesday.

“This budget is balanced — without gimmicks,” Welch said Wednesday. “This budget is fiscally responsible and it’s actually compassionate too.”

The framework advanced by the Senate is largely similar to the $49.6 billion proposal Pritzker introduced in February, with about $1 billion in additional spending.

Pritzker in a statement said the budget makes “transformative investments” while “building on our record of fiscal responsibility,” adding he looked forward to the House considering the budget, which “will make childcare and education more accessible, health care more affordable and our state’s business and economic position even stronger.”

Most of the agricultural outlays in the Senate-approved budget were held to levels set for the current fiscal year, except for a new $20 million program aimed at expanding access to healthy food in urban and rural food deserts.

The “Grocery Initiative,” which has support from IFB, would offer state grants to new and existing grocery stores to open in underserved communities for the retail sale of “substantial variety of perishable foods,” including dairy products and fresh meat, poultry and fish.

IDOA’s budget would drop about $16 million to a total $204 million, but would keep funding to administer the Pesticide Act at $7.7 million, the Pesticide Control Act at $724,900 and the Livestock Management Facilities Act at $470,000.

IDOA’s cover crop incentive program that offers a crop insurance premium discount for enrolled acres would again receive $660,000, but IDOA would see a $159,000 boost for exotic pest control, with $630,000 total set aside for combatting invasive pests like the gypsy moth.

Funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) would total $11.5 million, with $8.5 million for SWCDs operations and $3 million for cost-share funding.

The line item for agricultural education was held to $7.05 million and FFA grants were again funded at $100,000. University of Illinois Extension funding, which passes through IDOA’s budget, would again total $10.994 million and Cook County Extension would receive $2.449 million. Funding for 4-H Extension was also maintained at $786,400.

County Fairs and Agricultural Societies would maintain funding levels of $1.818 million, but County Fair and Exposition Authorities would see a slight bump to $960,000. The county fair rehabilitation level would remain at $1.34 million.

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May 26, 2023 at 06:12PM

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