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Illinois lawmakers will work into weekend despite Democratic "agreement" on budget


Thursday, May 25, 2023  |  Article  |  Mike Miletich

— Gov. JB Pritzker and the Democratic leaders from the House and Senate reached an "agreement" on the Fiscal Year 2024 budget Wednesday afternoon, but the first draft of the $50 billion spending plan wasn't filed until after 9 p.m. The Senate then adjourned less than two hours later because their Democratic colleagues in the House were still reviewing the plan.


"I think it is a mechanical impossibility to pass a budget tonight in time for the House to read it in on this calendar day," said Senate President Don Harmon (D-Oak Park). "So, I think the wisest course of action is for us to wrap up our business today, give more time for review of the introduced budget, and to consideration of proposed amendments."


Harmon explained that the Senate Appropriations Committee will meet at 9 a.m. Thursday to allow stakeholders and the public to provide testimony on the budget. The Democrat also noted that he appreciated the bipartisan manner in which the Senate had addressed the budget delay.


"Staff is reviewing the budget and Leader John Curran (R-Downers Grove) is still in communication with the Senate President," said Senate Republican spokesperson Whitney Barnes.


The Senate will plan to vote on the spending plan later Thursday morning. Meanwhile, the House will have to wait until Saturday to take action on the budget.


Pritzker explained that the "agreed plan" is fairly similar to his budget proposal from February, including significant investments for education, human services, and economic development.


Senate Bill 250 includes $250 million to launch the governor's Smart Start Illinois plan to get more children in preschool and stabilize the childcare workforce. Harmon (D-Oak Park) and Speaker Emanuel "Chris" Welch (D-Hillside) also agreed on $350 million for the evidence based funding model for K-12 schools and $45 million to start a three-year pilot program addressing teacher vacancies across the state. Their plan also features $3 million to expand access to computer science courses.


"Like the past four budgets, this budget looks toward the future - a future where every child gets a quality education from cradle to career and where every parent has access to the childcare and training they need to get a better-paying job," Pritzker said.


This plan also includes a $100 million increase in MAP grant funding to ensure anyone at or below the media income can go to community college for free.


Democrats have earmarked $400 million to close on economic development deals and attract businesses to the state. Their budget also includes $22.8 million to implement the state's behavioral health transformation for children.


Pritzker said the FY24 budget will be his fifth balanced budget, and he was proud to champion investments to the state's rainy day fund and pension fund. Their spending plan includes $700 million for the pension stabilization fund, which is $200 million more than the required annual payment. It also features $450 million to pay the rail splitter bond debt. Democrats believe this decision could save the state $60 million in interest.


"The agreement we reached will produce another responsible balanced budget that reinforces our state's economic stability while making progress on key issues for the people of Illinois," Harmon added.


The Democratic leaders noted that their plan also features $350 million for homelessness prevention, affordable housing, and outreach.


"We're here because we care about people," Welch said. "We can be fiscally responsible and compassionate too because that's why people send us here."


The 3,409 page bill includes a nearly $75 million boost for the Department of Children and Family Services to hire 192 staff, expand training, and increase scholarships for youth in care. Democrats also agreed with Republicans that the state should phase out the franchise tax and expand workforce development programs.

Harmon and Welch initially said they were optimistic the plan will pass out of both chambers by Friday. While Senate Republicans were included in budget negotiations, House Republican Leader Tony McCombie said she is disappointed Democrats didn't include budget priorities of her members.


"Republicans and Democrats have shared priorities and past promises that need to be kept," McCombie said. "Extension of the Invest in Kids scholarship and the Research & Development tax credit, fully phasing out the franchise tax, and making essential changes to the estate tax code - shared priorities that should be included in budget discussions."