(The Center Square) – After Illinois voters rejected his progressive income tax amendment, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has said he plans to focus on cuts to balance the state’s budget.
On Tuesday, Pritzker has announced plans to reduce state spending by $700 million dollars for fiscal year 2021. The plan includes a hiring freeze, grant reductions and operational savings.
The governor says the state is negotiating with AFSCME and other employee unions to identify $75 million dollars in cost savings, which could include furlough days. The Department of Corrections will also identify additional savings due to a lower prison population, which could include closing prisons.
“While short term federal help may yet come, we need to take action to maintain fiscal stability over the long run and address the problems that plagued Illinois pre-pandemic,” Pritzker said.
AFSCME Executive Director Roberta Lynch said state employees have already made sacrifices.
“Undoubtedly, our state faces a severe fiscal crisis and action is urgently needed,” Lynch said in a statement. “However, it is grossly unjust to suggest that frontline state employees who have already sacrificed so much in our current public health crisis should bear an outsized share of the burden of fixing the state’s fiscal crisis as well.”
Lynch said that thousands of state employees have contracted COVID-19, hundreds have been hospitalized and some have died.
The Illinois AFL-CIO, which represents some state employees, joined AFSCME is opposition to the budget cuts.
“We join AFSCME in opposing state budget cuts that place the burden on the backs of public employees who are on the frontlines of our collective fight against COVID-19,” Illinois AFL-CIO President Tim Drea and Secretary-Treasurer Pat Devaney said in a statement. “Our state has suffered for too long with revenue shortfalls, and these now are producing very real and painful choices that will devastate the very hard-working, middle-income families we all depend on.”
Pritzker said a loss of state tax revenue will cause a $4 billion shortfall over the next two years. The state is expected to get $2 billion in borrowing from a federal program this week. That is after the state is expected to pay back $1 billion of a $1.2 billion bridge loan from last year.
“It pains me to pursue these actions because these state employees are public servants who dedicate themselves to improving the lives of the people we all serve,” Pritzker said.
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said the budget lawmakers passed in the spring was balanced on wishful thinking over concerns raised by Republicans.
“Governor Pritzker, President Harmon and [House Speaker] Mike Madigan were repeatedly warned about the dire shortfalls in the fantasy budget that relied upon the passage of the graduated tax and a ‘fingers crossed’ hope for a federal bailout,” Durkin said in a statement. “Instead of living within our means, they attempted to trick voters into raising taxes, and were sorely rejected by Democrat, Republican and Independent voters across the state. We hope the Governor uses his authority to call the General Assembly into session so that we can look to move Illinois forward by fixing the problems the Democrats have created.”
Illinois Senate Republican Leader-Designate Dan McConchie, R-Hawthorn Woods, said Pritzker only has himself and fellow Democrats to blame for the budget deficit.
“The Governor can blame others all he wants for the state’s financial mess, but the fact of the matter is this is a bed of his own making,” McConchie said in a statement. “Voters fundamentally rejected his graduated tax proposal because of their lack of trust in state government, which stems from years of Springfield increasing taxes and ignoring the reforms that Republicans have put on the table time and time again. In fact, during the current budget cycle, instead of taking up spending reforms in anticipation of hard times to follow from COVID-19, Democrats and the Governor increased spending, relying on magic money from the federal government that never materialized. This is the kind of recklessness that voters know all too well and is the real reason they rejected Springfield digging deeper into people’s pockets.”
John Patterson, spokesman for Senate President Don Harmon, said Harmon is ready for the upcoming budget challenges.
“The voters sent the message that they expect tough decisions to be made,” Patterson said. “The Senate President will review the governor’s actions as we prepare to head into another legislative session and another tough budget year. We look forward to our colleagues across the aisle offering up the Republican cuts for public review. Hopefully, Washington soon will come to its senses and realize that states and cities across this country have been wiped out financially by this virus.”