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Budget bully? GOP accuses Pritzker of holding ‘funding to our schools hostage’ to income tax plan

Accusing the governor of a “bullying tactic,” Assistant House Republican Leader Avery Bourne said putting the $150 million in reserves was just a way to “push Pritzker’s political agenda.” 

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville.
State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Morrisonville, tells reporters that Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget proposal for education funding will hurt schools during a state Capitol news conference Wednesday in Springfield.
John O’Connor/AP

SPRINGFIELD — When J.B. Pritzker ran for office in 2018, his campaign criticized then Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner for “delaying funding for schools” — but on Thursday Republicans got their turn.

House GOP leaders accused the Democratic governor of withholding school funding dollars for political reasons.

“This bullying tactic to hold funding to our schools hostage — and our students — in order to get his way is not only irresponsible but presents a false choice,” said Assistant House Republican Leader Avery Bourne.

On Wednesday, Pritzker released his budget calling for $350 million for the school funding formula, which is designed to put more money for education into the state’s poorest and neediest districts.

But Pritzker’s budget plan sets aside $150 million of the school funding in reserve, only to be released if the graduated income tax amendment referendum passes this November. Without the amendment passing, Pritzker’s budget would provide $200 million in education funding.

Assistant House Republican Leader Avery Bourne speaks at a Springfield news conference on Thursday.
Assistant House Republican Leader Avery Bourne speaks at a Springfield news conference on Thursday.
Neal Earley/Chicago Sun-Times

Bourne, of Downstate Morrisonville, said putting the $150 million in reserves was just a way to “push Pritzker’s political agenda.” Speaking at a statehouse news conference, she said the governor should have introduced a budget without adding spending that will only be unlocked if voters approve an amendment to the state’s constitution.

Pritzker said in his budget he planned for both scenarios, one in which voters pass the graduated income tax amendment in November, and one in which they reject it. Pritzker said his budget would be balanced either way — with or without the extra revenue from the amendment to the state constitution.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Thursday.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker meets with the Sun-Times Editorial Board Thursday.
Rich Hein/Sun-Times

But the governor said if the amendment were to pass it would unlock $1.4 billion in reserves, which includes the extra education money.

“What happens without revenue is we still have to make the full payment in our pensions, we still have other significant obligations and here, yes it’s true that we won’t be able to get to $350 million, but $200 million increase in education funding, K-12, is as much as we could do,” Pritzker said.

In 2017, Rauner approved a new funding formula to help make up for funding disparities for schools from local property taxes.

Pritzker said the $150 million in reserve that will be unlocked if the graduated income tax amendment were to pass could serve as a relief for local property tax districts, which are a major contributor to local school budgets.

“Now again, we are increasing funding so that should help keep at bay increases in local property taxes,” Pritzker said.

In his budget address on Wednesday, Pritzker blamed the previous administration for “years of poor fiscal management,” citing his budget as a fix to some of the state’s money problems.

Back when he was running for governor, Pritzker’s campaign released an ad attacking Rauner for “delaying funding for schools.”

Republican lawmakers say he is now being hypocritical.

“He spent a large part of his budget address attacking the previous general assemblies and the previous governor for the exact same tactics that he is now using,” Bourne said.