Daily Egyptian

Invoking the Great Depression, Pritzker delivers first budget proposal amid $3.2 billion deficit

By Dan Petrella and Rick Pearson, Chicago Tribune

Feb. 20 – Comparing Illinois’ financial morass to the challenges the state faced during the Great Depression, Gov. J.B. Pritzker used his first budget address Wednesday to lay out the initial stages of a multiyear road map that is ultimately dependent upon voters approving a graduated income tax.

In a 37-minute speech that found Pritzker vowing to end the ideological warfare that helped fuel a record budget impasse under his defeated predecessor, Republican Bruce Rauner, the new governor sought both compromise and patience: A desire to have Republicans work with the state’s one-party Democratic rule as well as patience to enact multi-year fiscal changes to stabilize Illinois’ shaky finances.

“Budgeting will not be done any more by taking the state hostage, or by court orders, consent decrees and continuing appropriations but instead by debate and compromise and a return to regular order. We will work together earnestly to solve the state’s problems. We will disagree at times on important things, but the work we all came here to do will get done,” Pritzker said.

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“To get to fiscal stability and eliminate our structural deficit, there’s no quick fix. It took decades to get us into this mess. It will take at least several years to get us out of it,” he said. “We must therefore embrace a multiyear approach with fair principles and smart investments in our people. Our state does well when our people do well.”

Pritzker said his $38 billion spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1 was “balanced,” but based on a “regressive tax structure that I do not favor and that puts the greatest burden on working families.” It was a continuation of his campaign-themed pitch to replace the state’s constitutionally mandated flat-rate income tax with one that boosts rates on higher wage earners.

“Ultimately, our chief responsibility to the people of Illinois is to set this state on a path to sustainable growth with an income tax system that is fair,” the billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotels fortune said.

“It is not fair that I pay the same tax rate as a teacher, a child care worker, a police officer or a nurse. And efforts to simply increase the income tax rate across the board fuels further income inequality and kicks the can down the road for our children and grandchildren to solve our ongoing budget issues. The state needs a fair tax, and I am going to be relentless in pursuing one over the next two years,” he said.

Pritzker said his office intended to begin “immediate” discussions with lawmakers on proposed income tax rates under a graduated tax. He noted the state is faced with a $3.2 billion budget deficit. To offset this and address an ongoing pension shortfall, Pritzker said he would push for new revenue from legalizing marijuana and sports betting and by enacting a tax on insurance companies to help cover state medicaid costs.

Petrella reported from Springfield and Pearson from Chicago.

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