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Illinois Senate Democrats boost budget plan after House leaves town

Olivia Olander, Jeremy Gorner, Dan Petrella and Olivia Stevens, Chicago Tribune on

Published in News & Features

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois Senate Democrats closed in Sunday on approving the state’s next budget, keeping much of fellow Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s plans in place but boosting expected spending by $400 million while also giving themselves, House representatives and many top state officials a 5% bump in pay.

The Senate was poised to vote on the $53.1 billion fiscal plan in the thick of the Memorial Day weekend as Democratic majorities in both the Senate and House continued to try to find common ground on some key sticking points, and Republicans weighed in but without enough political power to affect the outcome. The plan includes $750 million in tax hikes but also includes some cuts to the governor’s plans that supporters say will help lower- and middle-income Illinois residents.

“We’re going to get it done. We’re grinding away,” Senate President Don Harmon, an Oak Park Democrat, said Sunday afternoon, adding: “We’re staying in close contact with the House. We live by the mantra ‘no surprises,’ and we’re going to try to make sure that we don’t send anything to the House that they’re not ready to receive.”

Amid the Democratic squabbling, lawmakers blew past a self-imposed Friday deadline and the Illinois House went home Saturday night with plans to return after the holiday weekend. That tees up a final budget passage for midweek.

Some of the biggest highlights in the evolving 3,400-page fiscal plan include a slight hourly boost for service providers who help the developmentally disabled, a more generous child tax credit and a refusal to lower a built-in annual increase to the standard state income tax exemption, which experts said would have harmed lower-income families.

The latest details were revealed at a roughly hourlong hearing Sunday morning where state Sen. Elgie Sims, the chief budget negotiator for the Senate Democrats, said his caucus’s spending plan comes out to about $53.1 billion, about $400 million more than Pritzker’s proposed $52.7 billion in spending. The legislation emphasizes education, public safety, combating homelessness, and a wealth of other state services, Sims said.

 

Not mentioned during the hearing was that the spending plan calls for a 5% pay hike for lawmakers that would boost annual base pay for all 177 members of the General Assembly to $93,712. Many lawmakers receive additional stipends for holding leadership positions or chairing committees.

Pritzker last year used his veto powers to reduce pay increases for lawmakers, statewide elected officials and agency heads under his purview after the legislature approved raises that were above limits set in state law. The spending plan this year also includes raises of about 5% for the governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, comptroller and treasurer and the heads of executive agencies. Pritzker, a billionaire Hyatt Hotels heir, does not collect a salary as governor.

Focusing on the full budget plan, one Republican, state Sen. Chapin Rose, complained that the Democrats’ fiscal proposal calls for spending too much, including for noncitizens receiving health care, as well as on funds for the migrant crisis in Chicago.

The plan includes the $182 million Pritzker proposed to dedicate toward the ongoing migrant response as part of an agreement with Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson and Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle announced earlier this year.

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