Pritzker defends call for federal bailout despite budget surplus


Despite his budget proposal cutting spending from the previous record-high year by less than $2 billion and touting a $120 million expected surplus, Gov. J.B. Pritzker maintains that Illinois is still in need of the $7.5 billion contained in President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 relief plan.

The Center Square asked Pritzker Tuesday whether he thinks it’s still necessary for the state to take the estimated amount proposed in the aid plan after he announced in his budget address that he’d balanced the current year’s books and expects a surplus next year as well.

“This is a budget that is a result of a crisis that we’ve had facing the state and the country,” he responded. “When you say there’s a surplus at the end, it’s a mild surplus. Not totally insubstantial, more than $100 million, but that’s in a $41.6 billion budget. This is a budget that is balanced but balanced in a way, unfortunately, that doesn’t really provide what all of people need across the state of Illinois but it’s the best we can do in this very tight time.”

In the federal legislation’s current form, Illinois stands to receive $7.5 billion and local officials would get a portion of $5.7 billion. This would give Illinois $7.62 billion to spend.

If Pritzker’s budget proposal is enacted, Illinois would see an estimated $7.62 billion budget surplus in the coming fiscal year.

The U.S. House of Representatives is said to be calling the package for consideration this coming weekend, according to multiple reports.

After hearing Pritzker’s comment, members of Illinois’ Republican Congressional delegation say the aid would go toward paying down the state’s overspending that predates the pandemic.

“Federal aid needs to be targeted to those in need and spent immediately. That’s not what this bill does,” U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis said Wednesday. “Vast sums aren’t pandemic related and won’t be spent for years. No state should receive a handout to be used for ‘paying down borrowing and our bill backlog’ as the Governor stated in his budget address last week. That’s not a pandemic expense, that’s not something that’s caused by the pandemic.”

U.S. Rep. Darin LaHood, a Peoria Republican who sponsored legislation that would have kept states from getting untethered aid from the federal government, called the package a pension bailout.

“This pandemic did not create Illinois’ financial mess; however, it emphasized the long-term challenges that Illinois faces for failing to implement sound budget and tax policies – something that Governor Pritzker has failed to do during his time in office,” he said Wednesday. “Congress delivered critical, bipartisan COVID-19 relief to Illinois through five bipartisan packages. In fact, some of these dollars remain unspent by the state. Hardworking taxpayers should not be on the hook to bail out Illinois from non-COVID-19 related fiscal issues – such as the $140 billion in unfunded pension liability – that Governor Pritzker and his supermajority in the state legislature refuse to address.”

Freshman Rep. Mary Miller responded to Pritzker’s comments Thursday.

“The newest COVID ‘relief' is another attempt at bailouts for blue state governments like Illinois that have mismanaged their states for years,” she said. “It has no place in a COVID relief bill. People are hurting, and any further aid must be targeted to those most in need and used to enhance vaccine rollout and reopen schools and businesses.”

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza told The Center Square that the state absolutely needs that aid to pay back the emergency loans the state took on amid the pandemic.

“When we say that we need federal stimulus dollars, it’s not for new spending,” she said. “It’s to pay back the debts that we had to incur to get through COVID and stabilize our budget through this period of time.”

According to the Washington Post, a number of moderate Democrats in Washington are questioning whether states really need that much in untethered state funds. The Post spoke to anonymous officials who said they feared states would lower taxes in return for the extra federal revenue.

• Greg Bishop contributed to this report

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