Gov. JB Pritzker called Wednesday for making preschool available to every 3- and 4-year-old in the state within four years, starting with a $440 million investment to bring 5,000 additional children into the program this fall.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, was glad to see the governor acknowledge the importance of child care during his address.
“Child care has been one of my top priorities that I truly believe should be a major focal point for the state,” said Rezin, who serves as the minority spokesperson for the Senate Early Childhood Education Committee. I look forward to working on ideas and solutions to help benefit hardworking Illinois families who are struggling to gain access to this critical service.
Rezin, however, said she was disappointed the governor’s proposal increased the state’s permanent spending by $3 billion.
“He is doing nothing more than spending us into a major tax increase in the near future,” Rezin said. “If we commit to this permanent spending and the nation falls into a recession, Illinoisans will be paying a very hefty price. It may be difficult for the governor and the majority party to contain themselves, but we have to responsibly prioritize our state’s spending.”
Pritzker’s budget also includes $100 million to build facilities to house the expanded programs. There’s $70 million to expand participation in childcare for parents who need to work or attend school by increasing the income threshold, and $20 million to revamp the provider-payment system.
Pritzker declined to discuss other initiatives he would propose in the coming year after a $50 billion budget in the current year.
State Rep. Lance Yednock, D-Ottawa, said Wednesday’s address was the first step in the process of negotiating the state’s yearly spending plan.
“As a tireless advocate for our communities, I plan to thoroughly review the budget, as well as meet with local leaders and stakeholders to ensure our voices are heard in Springfield and our communities’ needs are being met,” Yednock said, noting afford health care and an improved economy are his priorities. “I will push for a fair and responsible budget that invests in our schools, supports seniors, and provides the resources we need to keep our communities safe.”
State Sen. Thomas Bennett, R-Gibson City, said he is in favor of ending “reckless spending” and “partisan pork projects.”
“The people of Illinois deserve something better than another partisan plan drawn up behind closed doors during the late hours of the night,” Bennett said. “State spending is at historic levels, yet we still keep hearing about crisis after crisis within state agencies, especially those that are charged with caring for our most vulnerable citizens, including a director repeatedly being found to be in contempt of court.
“This broken process has to end. The taxpayers deserve an open and transparent process that prioritizes spending where it is needed most, and that shows discipline with their money.”
State Sen. Win Stoller, R-Germantown Hills, said there were many good things included in the governor’s budget proposal lawmakers can agree upon, “the fact remains that Illinois is facing a fiscal cliff and we simply cannot afford everything the governor wants if we are to avoid a major tax increase in the future.”
“Illinois is no longer receiving the massive pandemic stimulus influx from the federal government, so it would be fiscally irresponsible to continue spending as if that money will still be coming in year after year,” Stoller said. “It may be hard for Democratic lawmakers to accept, but we cannot continue creating new spending programs like millions of dollars for illegal immigrant welcoming centers. Before we create any new spending, we have a duty to address real issues and priorities like our growing pension liabilities.”
State Rep. Dennis Tipsword, R-Metamora, said the governor’s plan spends money Illinois doesn’t have. He said all priorities need to be heard and considered in the state budget process this spring by adopting an agreed revenue estimate and then limiting spending accordingly. He also said lawmakers and taxpayers need more access to participate in hearings, and more time to review proposals before they are called before the House for a vote.
“How we plan to spend $50 billion of the taxpayers’ money needs to be open for discussion and public review,” Tipsword said. “Transparency is a must.”
State Rep. Jed Davis, R-Newark, said the people of Illinois pay some of the highest taxes in the nation and he believed the governor’s proposal to be unsustainable.
“President Reagan said it best, ‘The top nine most terrifying words in the English Language are: I’m from the government, and I’m here to help,’” Davis said. “Sadly, Gov. Pritzker is the perfect exemplification of this quote. Year after year, he claims that he wants to help the people of our state, but his policies demonstrate the opposite.”
He said the governor needs to to hold himself accountable for spending.
“This budget continues to move us in the wrong direction and will detrimentally harm families and the hard-working people of Illinois,” Davis added.
Freshman lawmaker Bradley Fritts, a Dixon Republican representing the 74th District, joined the chorus of those decrying a 7.9% increase in expenditures when revenue is expected to fall 2.8%, saying it will “further burden the taxpayers in the state.”
But Fritts credited the governor for expanding funding for rural hospitals, especially in light of the closure of St. Margaret’s Hospital in Peru.”Now, some women in my district have to travel over an hour to reach a hospital to give birth safely,” Fritts said. “This is unacceptable, and I commend Governor Pritzker’s effort to assist the people of our state in accessing healthcare services.”
– The Associated Press’ John O’Connor contributed to this report.