Pritzker announces $711 million in budget cuts in ‘first phase of our path forward’

The governor said his staff is in conversations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other unions about furlough days and other actions in an attempt to identify another $75 million in cost savings for the state.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a news conference last year.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker speaks at a March 30 coronavirus briefing.

Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times file

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday he authorized more than $711 million in budget cuts in offices under his control for the current fiscal year in an attempt to close a nearly $4 billion budget gap.

“This gets us part of the way toward addressing the budget deficit,” Pritzker said at his daily coronavirus briefing. “For additional, and more permanent balancing of our budgets going forward, I will work with the legislature, but make no mistake: legislative action and engagement is required. While short term federal help may yet come, we need to take action to maintain fiscal stability over the long run and address the problems that plagued Illinois pre-pandemic.”

Pritzker said his administration has “scoured the budget” to try to reduce the effect of the cuts on residents but, with a move to a graduated income tax off the table, “there will be a real human impact here.”

“I’m sorry to say that we simply cannot prevent these losses from touching the real lives of our residents,” Pritzker said. “This is going to be tough.”

The cuts, which total $711.2 million, have already begun to be implemented, Pritzker said.

Those cuts include a continuation of the state’s freeze on non-essential hiring and travel as well as other “operational savings” related to reduced equipment purchases and delayed technology projects, as well as grant reductions due to lower prison populations and the cancellation of state and county fairs.

Pritzker also said his staff is in conversations with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees and other employee unions about furlough days and other potential personnel cost adjustments in an attempt to identify another $75 million in cost savings for the state.

Roberta Lynch, the executive director of the federation’s Council 31, said in a statement “it is grossly unjust to suggest that frontline state employees who have already sacrificed so much in our current public health crisis should bear an outsized share of the burden of fixing the state’s fiscal crisis as well.

“Moreover, it is counterproductive in the extreme to target these employees at a time when the need for state services and the demands on state government are greater than ever,” Lynch’s statement continued in part.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, of Western Springs, took aim at Pritzker, Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, and Speaker Michael Madigan, saying in a statement the three were “repeatedly warned about the dire shortfalls in the fantasy budget that relied upon the passage of the graduated tax and a ‘fingers crossed’ hope for a federal bailout.

“Instead of living within our means, they attempted to trick voters into raising taxes, and were sorely rejected by Democrat, Republican and Independent voters across the state,” Durkin’s statement continued. “We hope the Governor uses his authority to call the General Assembly into session so that we can look to move Illinois forward by fixing the problems the Democrats have created.”

Asked if he favored raising the state’s flat, 4.95% income tax, Pritzker said he’s focused “on the cuts we need to make in state government.”

“We’ve got to balance the budget,” Pritzker said. “You’ve got to look at both sides — the expenditure side, the revenue side — in order to get there and right now I’m focused entirely on what cuts can we make, what do we need to do. I want to make sure that the General Assembly, and the governor, are managing the taxpayers dollars as efficiently and effectively as we can so that’s all I’m focused on right now.”

Last month, the state’s Office of Management and Budget projected “sizeable deficits” for fiscal years 2022 through 2026.

Already projecting a nearly $4 billion budget deficit for 2021, the state’s budget office also projects deficits ranging from $4.8 billion in fiscal year 2022 to $4.2 billion by fiscal year 2026, according to a report on the state’s economic and fiscal policy released in November.

“The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has resulted in unexpected and dramatic revenue losses, and Illinois will also continue to face significant financial challenges until it finds a long-term solution to its long standing structural deficit,” a statement accompanying the report said.

The state’s backlog of unpaid bills also is projected to grow over the next five years, rising from about $10.1 billion for the 2021 fiscal year to a little over $33 billion in 2026.

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