SPRINGFIELD — Lawmakers approved a state operating budget shortly before 2 a.m. Sunday, but despite the passage of the document, nothing about the next fiscal year is black and white.
The state is depending on a broad package providing federal monetary aid to states passing through the U.S. Congress, or, failing that, borrowing up to $5 billion from the U.S. Federal Reserve at an interest rate of approximately 3.8 percent.
“Well there’s no doubt that we’re going to have to revisit the budget if the federal government doesn’t come through,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said when asked if the state had a plan for a revenue stream to pay back the borrowing. “I think all 50 states are going to have to be revisiting their budgets if the federal government doesn’t come through.”
Pritzker took questions in his office at the Capitol on Sunday morning, about nine hours after the General Assembly adjourned on just its fourth day of legislative session since March 5.
The $42.8 billion budget keeps spending roughly flat from a year ago despite revenue for next year decreasing by an unknown number of billions and the potential of even further economic devastation should COVID-19 see a resurgence in the fall that coincides with a virulent flu season.
“The budget the General Assembly has sent to my desk acknowledges that massive economic disruption leads to difficult decisions,” Pritzker said.
Democrats, upon the bill’s passage, said in times of economic crisis, government needs to continue to spend instead of balancing the budget on the backs of the less fortunate.
Pritzker echoed the argument Sunday.
“There was a strong look at, you know, what could be cut,” Pritzker said. “Remember, though, this was all in the frame of a vastly increased need by families, workers, individuals all across the state.”
Republicans, however, said the budget balanced only on “a wing and a prayer.”
In House debate Saturday, Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, the GOP’s chief budget negotiator in the House, said there were billions of dollars, including some from the federal CARES Act, to be spent at Pritzker’s discretion with only limited guidance included in the budget.
“The ability for an administration to engage in emergency rulemaking and have control of more than $7 billion of state funds, with only broad strokes, broad umbrellas of programs and allocations for those dollars, I think should give members of this body pause,” Demmer said.
Rep. Gregory Harris, D-Chicago, said during debate the fact that the Legislature passed a full budget instead of a lump sum appropriation showed that it was exercising more oversight than other states were doing for their governors.
In regard to transparency, Pritzker said the way this year’s budget was negotiated was not ideal. The measure and everything else passed in the four-day session was negotiated by working groups of lawmakers without official avenues for public input.
“I will say that although the public wasn’t able to come in to hearings that the Legislature had, their representatives from both sides of the aisle were in fact in the working groups, it wasn’t a one-sided set of working groups, there were bipartisan groups working on these things.”
Sometimes those groups sought executive branch input, sometimes they didn’t, he said.
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