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Illinois Democrats pass $46.5 billion budget, $1.8 billion tax relief plan during session grand finale

Illinois House Democrats congratulate retiring House Majority Leader Greg Harris for passing...
Illinois House Democrats congratulate retiring House Majority Leader Greg Harris for passing his final budget on April 9, 2022.(Mike Miletich)
Published: Apr. 9, 2022 at 7:59 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD (WGEM) - The sun was rising in Springfield as the Illinois House adjourned early Saturday morning, just minutes after passing the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. This Democratic $46.5 billion spending plan passed out of the House on a 72-42 vote. That came just hours after the measure moved out of the Senate on a 34-19 vote.

Senate Democratic leaders filed their budget appropriations plan late Friday night. The bill includes $12 billion for education spending, with $9.7 billion set aside for K-12 funding and $2.2 billion for higher education. Democrats also earmarked $8.8 billion for Human Services.

The bill features $2.2 billion for public safety as well. Lead sponsors emphasized their agreed budget will invest more than $200 million above Gov. JB Pritzker’s budget proposal for law enforcement and violence prevention programs. This budget also prioritizes $1 billion for the state’s rainy day fund and a combined $500 million for pension obligations.

“This is one of the best budgets that we have seen,” said Sen. Elgie Sims (D-Chicago). “But it also built on the financial stability that we have seen based on the policies that we have instituted here in this General Assembly.”

The plan only received a subject matter hearing with the Senate Executive committee shortly before 9 p.m. Friday. Although, there was a new amendment filed to the budget bill around 11:30 p.m. and that language bypassed the committee.

Senate Republicans were upset they couldn’t view the changes before the legislation would be called on the floor.

“It’s damn near impossible to know what’s actually happening here without a bill being filed, without a budget implementation plan being filed, and without a tax plan being filed. It is impossible without a rack up,” said Sen. Chapin Rose (R-Mahomet). “So I don’t know what we’re supposed to gain from this hearing when we don’t have anything in front of us.”

The budget implementation plan, or BIMP bill, was filed during the subject matter hearing. Sims said there is no inter-fund borrowing or sweeps included in the budget plan. However, Republicans disputed that several times during the hearing.

Sen. Don DeWitte (R-St. Charles) also feels Democrats ignored requests from local governments hoping for more funding to recover from financial losses throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. He noted that each municipality is entitled to a statutory percentage of sales tax revenue through the local government distributive fund process. Although, Sims said local governments were infused with cash many times since the pandemic started. Sims stressed that local leaders were not ignored.

Still, DeWitte said several of his local leaders were texting him to say the plan was an insult after they visited the Capitol pleading for help.

“They have a right to be insulted because this government has failed them in this process,” DeWitte said.

A separate measure includes $1.83 billion in tax relief Democrats promoted in the days leading up to the end of the session. This bill suspends the state’s 1% grocery tax for a year, freezes the Motor Fuel Tax for six months, and doubles the property tax rebate so households could receive up to $300 back.

Senate Republicans hoped to see a permanent suspension of the tax on groceries and prescription drugs. They also argued drivers could save more at the pump by removing the state’s sales tax on gas. Democrats say people could save 60 cents per tank of gas for a 20-gallon tank under their plan.

The same plan expands the Earned Income Tax Credit for low-income workers 18-24 years old without children, adults 65 and older, and undocumented immigrants. That legislation could also provide direct checks to working families with $50 per person and $100 for up to three children per family. Although, those checks would only go to single-filers making less than $200,000 and joint-filers making up to $400,000.

Sen. Michael Hastings (D-Tinley Park) was the lead sponsor of the legislation in the Senate. He said lawmakers on both sides of the aisle had the opportunity to help every taxpayer during a time of need. Hastings was particularly glad to see his proposal for a school supplies and clothes sales tax holiday was included in the relief package. He stressed the savings for families with children will be critical. There is also a tax credit for teachers to purchase school supplies before classes begin next fall.

“The savings and relief plan prioritizes families, giving them the much-needed and much-deserved assistance they need. It’s their money, not the government’s,” Hastings said. “We’re providing 95% of taxpayers with a one-time tax refund.”

House Republicans were furious that Democrats didn’t want to fill the $1.8 billion deficit in the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund. Lawmakers started 2022 with a $4.5 billion hole in the UI fund and Democrats decided to use $2.7 billion from the American Rescue Plan to cut down the debt.

“We’re bragging about the best budget in years. We’ve heard credit rating upgrades are imminent,” said Rep. Keith Wheeler (R-Oswego). “The majority party has had every opportunity to fully pay off the remaining $1.8 billion deficit in the UI trust fund with free money from the federal government.”

Wheeler said Democrats prioritized projects in their own districts instead of helping business owners.

The budget package includes $5 million for the Illinois Attorney General’s office to help prosecute retail crime and theft. House Majority Leader Greg Harris (D-Chicago) explained it also featured $5 million in grants for police from the Secretary of State. There is also $30.5 million for fire departments across the state.

“Vote against the police, vote against your fire departments,” Harris said to Republicans already in opposition to the spending plan. “Vote against your public schools, vote against your seniors.”

Saturday marked the final budgetary process for Harris. The 15-year veteran of the House announced in November that he would not seek re-election in 2022. Democrats gave Harris a round of applause after his final budget passed.

Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer (R-Jacksonville) said Democrats shouldn’t pat themselves on the back and declare the budget process transparent or inclusive. He argues there were no bipartisan budget negotiations and the public was left out of the process just like Republicans.

“The truth is this budget was less open, less transparent, and less inclusive than any budget process in decades,” Davidsmeyer said. “This is the most obvious election-year budget I have ever seen. The people of Illinois should not be fooled, and the Democrats in the Capitol should be ashamed.”

Each of the budget bills will now head to the governor’s desk for final approval.

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