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Republican lawmakers want transparency from Pritzker, administration asks GOP for ‘realistic’ budget ideas

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. – House Republican leaders say Gov. JB Pritzker shouldn’t include “imaginary” numbers in his budget proposal this week. The Democrat pushed for a graduated income tax and federal borrowing to balance the current budget. Caucus leaders hope Pritzker learned from the many challenges his last budget faced.

The governor will hold a virtual State of the State and Budget Address on Wednesday. But, Republicans don’t want to hear a speech filled with empty promises. They’re also asking Pritzker to consider more input and oversight from the General Assembly.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) says this week’s budget address may be the “most significant presentation” for Pritzker, as the entire state works to recover from the financial blow of the COVID-19 pandemic. Pritzker has stressed many times that the pandemic dramatically changed the state’s finances. Even so, Durkin says Democrats must follow the state constitution when it comes to spending taxpayer money.

Constitutional duty

The Republicans say it’s the governor’s constitutional duty to propose and balance the state’s budget. Pritzker announced $700 million in spending cuts for state agencies. Yet, Durkin claims they still haven’t seen the proposed cuts.

“Until the governor can provide us with a list of his agency cuts, we’re not in a position to be able to make recommendations,” Durkin added. “These are his agencies. He has said he is going to make tough decisions, two years ago. But, he still hasn’t done that.”

Rep. Tom Demmer (R-Dixon) also noted that the administration said a tax increase was possible when the “Fair Tax” failed to get enough support from voters. Yet, the administration recently announced Pritzker’s budget proposal would not include a tax increase. The same press release indicated the budget would “strengthen” IDPH, DCFS, IDES, and other “vital services.”

“We have a credibility issue and a transparency issue,” Demmer said. “The administration needs to be more forthcoming with information for both Republicans and Democrats in the legislature. And if they’re not going to be forthcoming, we need to use the power of the legislature to demand those answers.”

Administration fires back

However, the Pritzker administration says Republicans haven’t offered any solutions to address the state’s fiscal challenges. Press Secretary Jordan Abudayyeh emphasized Republicans admitted they don’t think it’s their responsibility to present ideas to balance the budget.

“It’s going to take a lot more than empty rhetoric to rebuild the state’s economy after this devastating pandemic and the Governor welcomes Republicans to present their realistic ideas, so the state can balance the budget in a bipartisan fashion,” Abudayyeh stated Monday.

The administration says the argument about transparency in this process is rooted in “willful ignorance” of the many ways their office communicates budget-related matters to lawmakers. In fact, officials released this document with a breakdown of the agency cuts in December. Abudayyeh stated last week that the administration projects a $3 billion deficit in the FY22 budget.

Officials previously estimated a $5.5 billion deficit. But, Abudayyeh explained that figure improved after Pritzker called for the state to pay off $700 million in borrowing from the federal reserve program. She also noted the economy performed stronger than expected during the pandemic.

The Capitol Bureau asked both Republicans what their solutions were for the budget. However, Durkin and Demmer reverted to concerns they have about Pritzker’s plan and how his Democratic colleagues would move forward.

“There’s a lot that has to be disclosed by the governor by Wednesday, or at least shortly after Wednesday, for us to be able to get an understanding of what his plan is to be able to operate this next fiscal year in a balanced manner,” Durkin said. “That’s assuming that the Democrats actually want to present a balanced budget, they want to pass a balanced budget, because it doesn’t seem to sink in with them that that’s a requirement.”

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Mike Miletich

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