Illinois General Assembly approves $53.1 billion state budget, but it takes all night

FILE – Jehan Gordon-Booth, Speaker pro-tem of the Illinois House of Representatives, listens during the signing ceremony of Illinois' paid leave bill, Monday, March 13, 2023, in Chicago. Gordon-Booth is the sponsor of a $53.1 billion budget that the House was supposed to approve but had to wait until after midnight Wednesday to approve due to constitutional requirements.Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

SPRINGRFIELD, Ill. (AP) — The Illinois General Assembly has passed a $53.1 billion state budget for the year that begins July 1. However, it took the House of Representatives until dawn Wednesday to pass the budget.

The Constitution requires that legislation be read publicly for three days before a vote is taken. The House of Representatives convened Tuesday for a marathon session that lasted through Wednesday. The all-night drama was prolonged when some Democrats, nervous about the spending, joined Republicans, denying Democrats the majority they needed for a time.

Jehan Gordon-Booth, speaker pro tempore from Peoria and the Democrats' chief budget negotiator, said no one gets everything they want in the deal.

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“I firmly believe that this budget will move Illinois forward,” Gordon-Booth said. “Because we are not about pitting vulnerable people against each other, but about helping all of our people.”

The Democrats are ahead in the House of Representatives by 78 votes to 40 and, after several votes, were able to reach the minimum number of 60 votes for a tax package in order to push through the proposal.

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans noted that annual spending has increased by $12.8 billion, or 32%, since Pritzker took office in 2019. Pritzker said he would sign the budget into law.

Republicans complained that Democrats were driving the state into future debt through their spending and criticized the bitterness in the final deliberations. Republican Vice Chair Norine Hammond Macomb said the budget planning in the House of Representatives had become an “exercise of bullying and absolute power” by the Democrats.

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The plan includes a $350 million increase in funding for elementary and secondary education, as called for in a 2017 school funding reform, despite the state education agency's calls for cuts to state-mandated school credits. The budget also includes an additional $75 million for early childhood education, which would add 5,000 seats, Gordon-Booth said.

The bill also meets Pritzker's request to provide $182 million to care for tens of thousands of asylum seekers in the U.S., most of whom are bussed from Texas to Chicago, where they cross the border. The bill also provides $440 million for health care for noncitizens.

In addition, the money will be used to pay off the state's debt to its severely underfunded pension funds and to pay another $198 million into the so-called emergency fund in the event of an economic downturn.

Gordon-Booth said the proposal was only 1.6 percent above this year's spending.

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Republican Rep. CD Davidsmeyer of Jacksonville pointed out Tuesday that what Democrats called a balanced budget was based on transfers from earmarked funds. For example, public transit was bolstered by transfers of $150 million from the road construction fund and $50 million from a fund for cleaning up leaky underground tanks.

“I'm concerned that there are tricks in this budget that will put us on the path to a huge collision in the future,” Davidsmeyer told Gordon-Booth. “I hope I don't have to say, 'I told you so,' when it happens.”

The corporate tax hike in particular caused the General Assembly to exceed its adjournment deadline as lobbyists scrambled to limit the impact. However, the budget raises $526 million by raising the cap on tax-deductible corporate losses to $500,000. It also caps the amount retail stores can withhold from their expenses at $1,000 per month to withhold state sales taxes. That would raise about $101 million.

And another $235 million would be added from higher taxes on sports betting and video gambling. Pritzker wanted to increase the tax paid by casino sportsbooks from 15% to 35%, but it was ultimately set on a sliding scale of 20% to 40%.

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Another victory for Pritzker was the elimination of the 1% tax on groceries, another proposal by the governor to combat inflation. However, because the tax directly benefits local communities, the budget would allow each community to impose its own grocery tax of up to 1% without state oversight.

And those with home rule powers – generally all cities and counties with populations over 25,000 – would have the authority to impose a sales tax of up to one percent without putting the question to voters for approval.

Anna Harden

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