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Illinois’ governor dismisses expense cuts as lawmakers continue crafting pandemic era budget

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Friday, May 22, 2020  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

Budget--State (8)

(The Center Square) – As lawmakers continue to hash out details for the budget year that begins July 1, Gov. J.B. Pritzker isn’t willing to cut spending. Instead, he’s looking to borrow to keep spending level. He’s also dismissing any reforms during the pandemic.

In a truncated session, state lawmakers are working on details of what could be a $39.7 billion spending plan. That’s about level with the current fiscal year’s spending plan, even with the expected crater in revenue from the economic shutdown imposed by government.

There are reports the state is looking to borrow more than $4 billion from a Federal Reserve program.

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, said that’s a good program.

“But, let’s not kid ourselves, the state of Illinois’ legislators and this governor have failed to make tough decisions to put Illinois in a better spot where they don’t need to borrow as much,” Davis said.

Asked if it’s time to reassess the state’s spending priorities, Pritzker said the state needs to continue current spending levels.

“For people who want to make massive cuts in government today, think about who you’re doing that to,” Pritzker said. “You’re doing that to the middle class, you’re doing that to the working class, you’re doing that to the people who need government the most.”

One major driver of the state’s $197 billion of structural debt that’s been around since before the pandemic is public employee pensions, but the governor has been unwilling to address reforms to lower those liabilities.

The Illinois General Assembly is in session Friday, the last day of a three-day special session, where they could pass a budget. That budget is set to begin July 1.

State budget aside, there’s more than $4 billion in federal COVID-19 aid for local governments a report says is being held by state officials, and members of Congress are demanding answers.

The National League of Cities found that Illinois is one of 32 states that are withholding federal funding from most municipal governments, including rural communities.

Davis said before more federal funds are freed for Illinois, he’s demanding to know why about $4.9 billion in federal funds stalled out.

“We can’t be as good of advocates as we’d like to be if we don’t know where the $4.9 billion that’s already coming to Illinois is being spent,” Davis said.

“No funding is being held at all,” Pritzker responded. “We need enabling legislation. We needed the legislature to actually get together to provide that enabling legislation and that’s what’s happening the next day and a half.”

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