Pritzker signs 'real balanced budget'
Guv completes ‘ambitious agenda’ by signing tax rates, too, pledges education funding, capital bill will provide property-tax relief
By Ted Cox
CHICAGO — Proclaiming the completion of his “ambitious agenda” in his first session with the General Assembly, Gov. Pritzker signed a $40.1 billion balanced budget along with new progressive tax brackets for the future in a ceremony Wednesday at the Thompson Center.
“We came together to think big and get big things done,” Pritzker said. “We achieved something that has eluded state government for decades — we passed a real balanced budget.”
According to Pritzker, “funding schools properly,” as laid out with a major increase in education spending, along with the local investment provided in the $45 billion capital bill also passed this spring, will enable county governments to pass along relief in property taxes.
House Majority Leader Greg Harris of Chicago agreed the budget would “bring down the property-tax rate,” and he cited reports calling the budget the best in a generation in funding higher education.
Harris touted $130 million allotted to the Department of Children and Family Services, and Pritzker said that would enable the embattled, overburdened agency to hire 300 new “front-line” workers. He also said the budget would fund two new classes of state troopers.
Pritzker called it “a watershed moment for Illinois” ushering in “a new era of fiscal responsibility.”
Sen. Toi Hutchinson of Olympia Fields called the budget “a moral document” and said it reflected a commitment to provide the people of Illinois with the the programs they want, with clarity in how they’ll be paid for.
“This is us doing exactly what our constituencies asked us to do,” Hutchinson said. “You cannot put proper investments into the things we care about without investing on the front end.”
“A budget is a moral document that reflects our values,” echoed William McNary, co-director of Citizen Action/Illinois, as well as a member of the Responsible Budget Coalition. According to McNary, that group has been pushing since 1981 for a budget that addresses residents’ concerns and actually pays for them.
The Governor’s Office issued a news release saying the budget “represents a bridge to the fair tax,” and Pritzker also signed a bill establishing the tax rates for a graduated income tax, set to face a referendum with voters in the November 2020 general election. As he’s demanded all along, the new tax brackets will leave tax rates level or lower them for 97 percent of taxpayers, while raising them on the top tiers earning $250,000 a year or more.
The Illinois Constitution can’t be amended to allow a graduated income tax until voters affirm it by a 60 percent majority in 2020, but those rates are now set to go into effect immediately after.
Pritzker said the tax rates were being laid out now to allow voters to know “exactly what they’re voting for,” calling it “a fair tax system that will improve the trajectory of our state’s finances forever.”
Rep. Michael Zalewski of Chicago said, “It’s time for Illinois to step up to approve the fair-tax solution.”
“Over the next 17 months, we will have a great debate for the hearts and minds of our fellow Illinoisans,” McNary said. “The wealthy and the powerful and the connected, they like things the way they are, and they’re not going to go away without a fight. They’re going to make the case for the status quo. But as a noted philosopher, Moms Mabley, once said, ‘If you always do what you always did you’ll always get what you always got.’ And that is deficits and downgrades and backlogs and cuts.
“But our side is going to make a different case, a case for fair tax reform,” he added, “for a public policy that takes us on the road to shared prosperity by giving a break to the middle class and for those struggling to get into the middle class, by asking the wealthy who can afford it to pay a little bit more to invest those revenues into schools and strong communities and responsibly pay what we owe. And we’re going to let the voters decide which vision they prefer.”
Pritzker granted that, in the political fray, “people are telling untruths about the fair tax,” but he said he was “very confident” Illinois voters understand the progressive tax and its advantages and will pass it.
“What a difference a year and a governor make,” said Sen. Heather Steans of Chicago. “Illinois is not just surviving, we’re thriving.”