Illinois House Democrats discuss budget, helping Ukrainian refugees

Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris talks with reporters in Springfield on March 17, 2022.
Illinois House Majority Leader Greg Harris talks with reporters in Springfield on March 17, 2022.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Mar. 17, 2022 at 6:51 PM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WGEM) - Illinois lawmakers have just over three weeks left before their spring session is set to end.

The House just wrapped up hearings with state agencies and providers discussing what they hope to see in the budget. Now, the negotiations for changes from Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget proposal begin.

Right now, lawmakers are considering how much money they can put into the unemployment trust fund that has $4.5 billion in debt. The Senate passed a plan last week to use $2 billion from the American Rescue Plan to help fill that hole.

House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago) explained Thursday that Senate Bill 2803 was agreed to by Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, Senate President Don Harmon, and Pritzker.

But how will the unemployment insurance fund’s remaining $2.5 billion in debt be addressed?

Harris said there could be solutions with bonding or using other types of revenue.

“What was done in the past is business agreed to raise the unemployment tax to service the bonds,” Harris noted. “There are different actions labor can take. So, there are a bunch of different things they’re modeling.”

Illinois has roughly $3.5 billion left to use from the American Rescue Plan. With $2 billion already set aside to address the unemployment fund, organizations supporting hotels, restaurants, and affordable housing are competing for the rest. Although, some hope that money will go towards developmental disability services.

State lawmakers invested $170 million toward the services in the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, but Pritzker only proposed $94.8 million for next year. Providers and advocates want a $246 million investment this spring. Many hear Pritzker and Democratic lawmakers promoting the $1 billion family tax relief plan included in his budget proposal. Developmental disability service providers say some of that funding should help those most in need instead of a tax holiday.

“This is one of the toughest things as legislators that we do. People come to us every day and they all have really dire needs. There’s going to be this many requests for people who have needs and things that have to be met,” Harris said with his arms stretched out.

“The reality is there’s going to be this many resources,” explained Harris, putting his hands closer together with a narrow space. “We have to look at all of these. We’re going to have to weigh these things, and we’re going to have to make some difficult choices on all these fronts.”

Supporting Ukraine

House Democrats also filed a proposal Thursday to impose sanctions on Russia and provide assistance for Ukrainians.

Rep. Lindsey LaPointe (D-Chicago) said her plan calls for Illinois to divest from Russian stocks and sovereign debt. That includes funds in the Illinois Teachers’ Retirement System and money the Illinois State Board of Investment oversees.

The bill could also require the Illinois Department of Human Services to make emergency rules to implement a resettlement program for Ukrainian refugees. LaPointe explained this could help refugees receive health care, mental health services, and other critical needs as they come to Illinois.

Many lawmakers across the state are hearing from constituents with loved ones fearing for their life. Many have hosted rallies in support of Ukraine and calls for action against Russia.

“They’re asking for a visible show of support and making sure that we use our toolbox in Illinois to do everything that we can,” LaPointe said.

The legislation could also develop a new task force to investigate Russian money laundering within residential, industrial, and commercial real estate sectors in Illinois. LaPointe said the state cannot sit back and ignore what’s happening in the unnecessary war. She hopes the plan gains bipartisan support and passes quickly.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) filed a bill last month to require Illinois to remove any investments in Russian companies. Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) has also introduced a plan to provide $20 million to help house Ukrainian refugees.

“In this dark and dangerous moment, it is crucial that we stand strong and unequivocally with the people of Ukraine and offer every tool at our disposal to provide aid to refugees who flee from the invasion of their sovereign nation,” Demmer said.

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