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Illinois lawmakers approve $42.8 billion budget, relying heavily on federal funds

Illinois State Capitol

SPRINGFIELD (ILLINOIS CAPITOL BUREAU) -- The Illinois General Assembly passed the Fiscal Year 2021 operating budget in the final hours of a special session planned in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Representatives voted 66-44 to approve the measure around 8:50 p.m. Saturday night, and their colleagues in the Senate concurred on a 37-19 vote just before 1 a.m. Sunday morning.

The $42.8 billion budget relies on nearly $5 billion in loans from the federal CARES Act.

"If we're going to balance this budget, I would rather not do it on the backs of people who would lose their jobs if we were to cut money to our schools, cut money to our first responders," said House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago). "I don't want thousands of people more out of work."

"Balanced on a wing and a prayer"

Harris notes there is a "huge" revenue shortfall, and it's still unknown when the federal government will discuss sending the additional funding to states.

"The ability for an administration to engage in emergency rule-making and have control of more than $7 billion of state funds with only broad strokes, broad umbrellas of programs and allocations for those dollars, I think should give members of this body pause," said House Deputy Republican Leader Tom Demmer.

He adds the budget is only balanced "on a wing and a prayer." The Dixon native emphasized it relies on $5 billion in borrowing or "magical revenue" coming from the federal government "with no strings attached."

Flat funding plan

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle know tough choices were needed to create a budget during the pandemic. Democrats note most state agencies will see funding stay flat at FY 2020 levels.

Republicans are deeply concerned K-12 schools will not see an increase for the evidence-based funding model, which calls for a boost in funding each year. Colleges will also see funding stay flat, along with many programs that help students financially, such as MAP and AIM HIGH grants.

Other lawmakers are expecting major cuts in their districts due to the budget plan. "For me, the way this budget plays in Peoria will result in the closure of 3 fire stations and elimination of 28 police officers from our city budget," said Rep. Ryan Spain. He adds this budget "takes us wildly in the wrong direction."

"Those numbers literally are life and death"

However, Spain's colleague from the River City, Rep. Jehan Gordon-Booth, is happy to see the budget investing in violence prevention. She says Memorial Day weekend is the kickoff of a "very, very bloody summer" for many communities across the state. Gordon-Booth lost her son DJ to gun violence six years ago.

"I share this story because it is important for us to know the work that we do and the impact that it has in communities." She mentions some may see budget lines as numbers on a spreadsheet, however "those lines, those numbers literally are life and death."

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services is also set to receive $1.4 billion in funding. “DCFS has experienced more turmoil in the past decade than any other state agency,” Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield) said. “While not all of the agency’s problems revolve around funding, many of the high-profile failures come from funded lack of resources.”

She hopes to see the roughly $178.5 million in additional funding used to enhance the workforce. Morrison says it could reduce caseloads for investigators and allow more attention to go toward the high demand of services.

“No child should have to worry or suffer, and this additional funding will allow for more caseworkers, services and investigators to protect them, ” Morrison said. “I applaud the General Assembly’s commitment to help this already at-risk group of children.”

In the governor's hands

Pritzker says the budget recognizes massive economic disruption leads to difficult decisions.

“This budget begins to address the financial upheaval we are facing, but more hard choices about how to spend and save these dollars wisely remain to be made.” The governor explains his administration will implement the spending framework and "find the necessary savings to meet the moment in front of us."

Pritzker says he will advocate for a national program to support state and local governments making up the difference in revenues that support families in need, fund schools and public hospitals, and pay for teacher/first responder salaries. He will discuss the budget and special session during a press briefing Sunday morning.

Mike Miletich

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