Pritzker Acknowledges Budget Turmoil Due To Coronavirus

Mar 25, 2020

Just a few weeks ago, Gov. JB Pritzker offered up a spending blueprint for Illinois. But that was before the COVID-19 pandemic was on the radar.

Since then, Pritzker's focus has been a day-by-day watch as the number of cases mounts and medical resources become scarce. In other words, it's hard to look ahead when the state’s current situation is pressing.

In February during his budget address, Pritzker talked about how more people were working in the state and how Illinois’ economy seemed to be headed in the right direction overall.

“There’s no doubt that any estimates that were made, even two months ago, would be not useful at this point. I don’t think anyone expected where we would be today,” he said Tuesday during a briefing with reporters.

Now, the governor and other state leaders have to figure out how much revenue — like income and sales taxes — will be lost from a near economic shutdown. At the same time, the state is having to spend more on healthcare as the numbers of coronavirus-related cases go up by the day.

“What’s the steepness of the downturn in revenues? And of course there are expenditures we’re needing to make to save people’s lives and to protect people across the state. We’re going to do what we need to do. There’s no question about that,” said the governor.

In February, Pritzker left a lot of uncertainty in his proposal. He highlighted a significant chunk of money as contingent on voters approving a change in the Illinois Constitution this fall. Pritzker is asking to shift the way the state taxes income from a flat tax to a graduated tax, where the wealthier pay more.

Among the items Pritzker said hinged on the election outcome was a 5% increase in operating money for universities, part of an annual increase in K-12 spending and funds for one of three new classes of state troopers.

It's too soon to determine if any other line items could wind up in that contingency category, or be changed altogether, due to COVID-19.

On Tuesday, Pritzker mentioned his administration will work with the General Assembly to craft a new state budget, which would take effect once Illinois' new fiscal year begins July 1.

Much of the number-crunching work will likely happen remotely. At this time, the legislature has no timetable for returning to the statehouse to vote in person. It's also unclear if lawmakers will need to make adjustments to the current budget before tackling the next spending plan.