Democrats push through $46.5 billion state budget in marathon overnight session

Republican foes blasted many of the measures that were approved by Democratic supermajorities, dismissing the package of mostly temporary tax cuts as an attempt to buy votes with one-time checks.

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House Majority Leader Greg Harris speaks on the House floor Saturday morning before lawmakers approved the state’s new budget.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris speaks on the House floor Saturday morning before lawmakers approved the state’s new budget.

Blueroomstream.com

After a marathon finish to the legislative session in Springfield, Gov. J.B. Pritzker trumpeted a $46.5 billion state budget that Democratic leaders shepherded through the General Assembly along with a series of other measures early Saturday, including an election-year package of tax cuts that amount to $1.8 billion in relief.

Pritzker declared that with the fourth annual spending plan of his term, Democrats had “achieved our state’s strongest fiscal position in generations, and we prioritize the education, public safety, health and welfare of the residents of Illinois.”

At a state Capitol news conference alongside House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Senate President Don Harmon — following a session that stretched from midday Friday until nearly daybreak Saturday — Pritzker also heralded separate legislation taking aim at rising crime, another key issue for many voters in the June 28 primary election.

“Most importantly, we can do all of this and return $1.8 billion in tax relief to the families who need it most,” Pritzker said.

Republican foes blasted many of the measures that were pushed through Democratic supermajorities, dismissing the package of mostly temporary tax cuts as an attempt to buy votes with relief that, following Pritzker’s assured signature, will take effect July 1 — about four months before the general election.

But many of those GOP critics still voted in line with their opponents across the aisle, adopting tax relief that promises to send $50 checks to most residents, among other provisions.

“Let’s call this budget what it really is: an attempt to buy your vote,” Senate Republican Leader Dan McConchie said. “For months, Republicans have proposed permanent tax relief. Instead, Democrats chose a permanent expansion to [spend], handing out one-time checks right before the election and then abandoning taxpayers right after the election.”

McConchie still voted in favor of the cuts, adding that “while some tax relief is better than none at all, Illinoisans deserve real relief instead of bigger government.”

Harmon countered the relief comes at a crucial time for residents “struggling under the weight of inflation and the lingering effects of the pandemic.”

Illinoisans who earn less than $200,000 per year can expect to receive $50 checks, plus $100 per dependent.

The rest of the $1.8 billion in taxpayer savings, according to Democrats, will come through a one-year suspension of the state grocery tax; a six-month delay of a 2-cent-per-gallon increase in the gas tax; property tax rebates of up to $300 for many homeowners; and a permanent expansion of the Earned Income Tax Credit from 18% to 20%.

On top of that, lawmakers scheduled a sales tax holiday on back-to-school items and many clothing items from Aug. 5-14.

As for the full, $46.5 billion budget, it includes about $12 billion for education, $9 billion for human services, $1 billion for the state’s nearly nonexistent “rainy day fund” and almost $10 billion toward the state’s annual pension fund contribution — about $200 million more than required.

“There’s no way to downplay that,” Welch said of putting a dent in the state’s gargantuan pension debt. “You didn’t hear a single question this morning in the House, talking about the budget, because the facts are not on their [Republican] side.”

GOP leaders said Democrats were “painting a rosy picture” made brighter through federal pandemic relief dollars.

“​​In the face of record inflation and a crushing tax burden, Democrats gave taxpayers a handful of candy and told them to suck it up,” Illinois Republican Party Chairman Don Tracy said in a statement. “They failed to provide real relief to taxpayers and all but guaranteed tax increases when the federal bailout money goes away.”

But at least one Wall Street ratings agency is siding with the Democrats’ improved outlook.

The plan moves the state “towards structural balance,” Fitch Ratings senior director Eric Kim said in a statement Friday, commenting on the budget agreement that Democrats reached earlier in the week, and which emerged mostly the same in the bill that passed early Saturday.

“Continued operating performance improvement and movement towards structural balance, and maintaining a more normal fiscal decision-making process, could support a return to the state’s pre-pandemic rating or higher,” Kim said.

The budget also includes more than $200 million in additional public safety and anti-crime efforts. And further burnishing election-year anti-crime bonafides, Democrats also passed measuresincreasing the number of cameras on Cook County expressways to investigate carjackings and shootings; and establishing organized retail theft as a felony, in an effort to tamp down smash-and-grab burglaries.

“This budget will make this a safer state for all who call Illinois home,” Pritzker said.

He has until early June to sign the bills into law.

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