Northwest Herald

Eye On Illinois: When, how and where officials budget public money reveals true priorities

With nearly five weeks before Gov. JB Pritzker presents his budget proposal, thoughts turn to the notion of priority.

There is a common macro understanding of the budget as a moral document: where you choose to spend is more revealing than professed concerns. But extend the concept even further and consider the budgeting process itself. Lawmakers are back in Springfield already, the budget address is weeks away and the budget is supposed to be finalized by the end of May.

Scott T. Holland

Not to suggest the governor’s proposal should open the session, or that it’s prudent to focus on nothing but budgeting. But in recent years we’ve seen lawmakers blow past their own early goals, occasionally miss the actual deadline and generally have entire weeks each spring where the status of the budget is seemingly a complete mystery except to the leaders of each legislative majority.

If we are gearing up for another cycle where next to nothing of substance happens until the overnight hours of Memorial Day weekend, then surely that in and of itself says something about priorities, even without the ability to scrutinize individual line items.

(To be clear, this is how Democrats do business in Springfield. The party has had such significant control for so long it would seem these choices are a feature of the system rather than a bug. Republicans proudly proclaim things would be different under their control, but that would have to come through the General Assembly and the November electoral map already points to at least two more years of the current balance.)

Yet, setting aside fair questions about how we get to the end result, the reality remains that where a government spends its money reveals the priorities of the officials who comprise that body. This is the separation between candidacy, where it’s possible to tell any given audience its concerns are indeed foremost, and service, in which only successful politicians can show their answers with floor votes.

Plenty of conversations will occur in the coming weeks and months concerning topics that are remarkably low priority. For example, I wouldn’t dedicate a nickel to the Chicago Bears football team until I was convinced the Department of Children and Family Services is on solid ground. But the talk does need to happen if only so everyone involved can fully understand the stakes before casting meaningful votes.

Furthermore, individual constituents are entitled to have their own priorities, with the expectation most will differ (from very little to entirely) from whatever the final budget ends up incorporating.

As session begins, listen to what officials say, then watch how they vote and what they tolerate. You can learn a lot about Illinois outside the budget itself.

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media. Follow him on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, @sth749. He can be reached at

Scott Holland

Scott T. Holland

Scott T. Holland writes about state government issues for Shaw Media Illinois. Follow him on Twitter at @sth749. He can be reached at