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Lawmakers have two weeks to finish, pass state budget with simple majorities


Tuesday, May 14, 2019  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | Illinois News Network

Budget--State (8) Harmon, Don--State Senate, 39 , Martwick, Robert--State House, 19 , Rose, Chapin--State House, 110
Lawmakers have two weeks to finish crafting a proposed $39 billion spending plan for the next state budget, which begins July 1.

While lawmakers have had session days off and on throughout the year since January, the Fiscal Year 2020 budget isn’t expected to be finalized and sent to the governor until the last minute.

Details on the fiscal year 2019 budget only became public last year in a Senate committee hours before it was pushed out of that chamber and into the House. That was with a House and Senate with Democratic majorities and a Republican Governor. Even though Democrats hold the governor’s mansion and have supermajorities in the House and Senate, the new budget could follow the same last-minute trajectory as last year.

State Sen. Chapin Rose, R-Mahomet, said the Democratic supermajorities at the statehouse are woefully late on getting a budget together.

“You’ve still got to put money on them to get it done, they’ve got supermajorities and the governor’s office to get it done,” Rose said. “But it probably doesn't mean it will be a good budget. It will probably be something slapdash put together.”

State Rep. Robert Martwick, D-Chicago, said the reason it takes lawmakers so long to craft a budget is that Illinois lawmakers get educated on the various aspects of the state budget through the early months of the year.

“So May is inevitably going to be a very, very crowded month where all the work gets done,” Martwick said. “The issues are still being worked on right now. But they are so much more narrow in scope than when we started on them in January.”

Those issues include more than $1 billion in new revenue Gov. J.B. Pritzker is banking on, including tens of millions from licensing for recreational cannabis and sports wagering, both of those measures have yet to be passed. There’s also tens of million for the upcoming budget from a statewide plastic bag tax, increase cigarette and e-cigarette taxes, an insurance tax and more, none of which have passed the legislature. There’s also the proposed gas tax increases to pay for statewide infrastructure projects.

Pritzker's proposal to shore up expenditures by delaying pension payments was staved off by an influx of revenue reported from last month.

State Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, said that unexpected $1.5 billion more from taxpayer last month is great news, but “the truth is manna from heaven may get us out of the dessert but it will not feed us for years to come.”

Republicans said it’s "not manna from heaven," but Illinois benefiting from a strong and growing national economy. They have said Illinois could be reaping more if it had policies in place to foster greater economic growth.

Still, Harmon and other Democrats want to change the state’s flat income tax to a one with higher rates on higher earners.

Bob Garza, a taxpayer from Joliet, said that will just target the wealthy.

“Once you raise their taxes, these are the people who it’s most easy for them to move out of the state,” Garza said. “At some point, in time they’re going to say 'I’m bailing.' ”

Any possible increased revenue from a progressive tax, were voters to approve one in November 2020, wouldn't be realized for several years in the future. The next budget begins on July 1.

Garza said state lawmakers should mirror the same philosophy he said works to lose weight, which is eat less and move more.

“The state is in debt,” Garza said. “There are only two ways to get out of debt. You have to spend less and make more.”