House gives final OK to $50.6 billion spending plan
By PETER HANCOCK
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – The 2023 spring legislative session came to an end in the early hours of Saturday morning after the Illinois House gave its approval to a $50.6 billion spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1.
The 73-38 party-line vote came around 2:30 a.m. after lengthy debate during which Democrats called the budget “balanced” and “compassionate” while Republicans claimed it masks hidden costs and fails to address the state’s most urgent priorities.
“This budget reaffirms our shared commitment to fiscal responsibility while making transformative investments in the children and families of Illinois that will be felt for years to come,” Gov. JB Pritzker said in a statement after the vote. “I look forward to signing this budget making childcare and education more accessible, healthcare more affordable, and our state’s business and economic position even stronger.”
Lawmakers had to jump through some procedural hoops to meet constitutional requirements while still passing the bill in time to leave Springfield for the bulk of Memorial Day weekend. That’s because the Illinois Constitution requires bills to be read into the record by title on three different days before a vote can be taken.
The Senate passed the budget bill late Thursday night, sending it to the House, where it got its first reading shortly thereafter. The House reconvened Friday evening, gave the budget a brief hearing before reading it into the record for a second time, and finally adjourned shortly after midnight Saturday morning. Eight minutes later, the House reconvened yet again for a final vote.
The final spending plan looked substantially like the one Pritzker outlined in his February budget proposal. It contains several new initiatives he asked for, including investments in pre-K through 12th-grade education, child welfare, combating poverty and homelessness, and increasing state spending on higher education.
“Smart Start Illinois” is a multi-year plan that aims to make childcare and preschool available to every three- and four-year-old whose family wants those services. For the upcoming fiscal year, that includes $250 million to increase the number of preschool slots available, stabilize the early childhood workforce and expand the Early Intervention and Home Visiting Programs.
The budget also includes Pritzker’s “Home Illinois” initiative – an $85 million increase in funding to support homelessness prevention, affordable housing, outreach and other programs aimed at reducing homelessness.
It also includes a $100 million increase in funding for public universities and community colleges, along with a $100 million increase in Monetary Award Program financial aid grants for low-income college students. Pritzker has said that will effectively make a two-year community college education available tuition- and fee-free for every working-class student in Illinois.
And it includes a $350 million increase in the Evidence Based Funding formula for K-12 education, the minimum amount called for under the law that lawmakers passed in 2018.
“We should not have to choose between being responsible for being a responsible state and being a compassionate one,” Speaker Pro Tem Jehan Gordon-Booth, D-Peoria, the top Democratic budget negotiator, said on the House floor. “We can do both. I dare say we have to do both.”
House Republicans, however, had announced earlier in the day that they would not provide any votes to pass the bill, calling it “one of the largest spends in Illinois history.”
“Our shared priorities, surprisingly, were not included and our offers to work with Democrats were ignored,” House Republican Leader Tony McCombie, of Savanna, said during an early afternoon news conference. “We cannot trust the majority party with more money when all they offer is so little in return to tangible benefits for Illinois families.”
Republicans cited several concerns with the budget, such as its continued funding of Medicaid-like health care for undocumented immigrants aged 42 and over, which has grown well past original projections. GOP members also objected to Democrats’ refusal to address the Jan. 1, 2024 sunset of a $75 million tax credit program that funds scholarships for private and religious schools.
Republicans also disapproved of the budget package’s allowance for the automatic inflation-determined growth of lawmakers’ base salary for next year from $85,000 to nearly $90,000 – a cost of living adjustment that McCombie argued violates the Illinois Constitution. They also criticized the budget’s failure to address needed funding for pay raises for state workers whose union contracts are up for renewal in the upcoming fiscal year.
“In our eyes, this isn’t a budget that provides for the future of Illinois,” Rep. Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, the House Republicans’ chief budget negotiator, said Friday afternoon ahead of the final vote.
But Democrats countered that the budgets they have pushed through since Pritzker became governor in 2019 have not only been balanced but have resulted in multiple credit upgrades from the three major rating agencies.
“If you want to vote for credit upgrades for the state of Illinois, vote aye,” Gordon-Booth said in her closing speech just before the final vote. “If you want to vote to fund the public school children in your district, vote aye. If you want to vote to fund the cities, towns, and villages in your district, vote aye. If you want to vote to give low-income and middle-income college students and your district the opportunity to go to college without being overburdened with college debt, vote aye.”
Passage of the budget allowed the House to adjourn its 2023 spring regular session.
According to legislative records, more than 560 bills passed both chambers and will eventually be sent to Pritzker’s desk. Lawmakers are not scheduled to return to Springfield until their traditional two-week fall veto session, which has not yet been formally scheduled.
Before the 2:30 a.m. vote on the spending plan, House members also voted on eight other bills Friday night. Those measures included a controversial bill that would give Ameren Illinois, the electric utility for the southern half of the state, the “right of first refusal” on the construction of transmission lines.
Another pair of bills that received only Democratic votes concern health insurance – one would give the state’s Department of Insurance the power to review and reject insurance rates, and the other would create a new state-based insurance marketplace.
A few of the late-night bills received unanimous votes in the House, including one that would create a tax credit program aimed at eventually attracting one of the six to 10 “hydrogen hubs” the federal government hopes to place around the U.S. as hydrogen clean energy technology continues to evolve.
After lengthy debate on the budget package, a bipartisan majority of House members approved one final measure before adjourning, which would permanently establish a previously experimental diversion program for first-time gun offenders.
The pilot program was only open to those under the age of 21, but all first-time offenders would be eligible for the permanent program. It was also modified to allow for greater prosecutorial and judicial discretion in those cases.
Hannah Meisel contributed.
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