ANALYSIS: ‘Significant enough’ opposition to Pritzker’s revenue plan leads to call for cuts

ANALYSIS: ‘Significant enough’ opposition to Pritzker’s revenue plan leads to call for cuts

By JERRY NOWICKI
Capitol News Illinois
[email protected]

When Gov. JB Pritzker proposed his budget for the upcoming fiscal year in February, he sought authority from lawmakers to raise more than $1 billion in revenue through various changes to the state tax code.

Among other things, he sought to raise $526 million through extending an expiring cap on losses that corporations can claim on taxes, and $200 million by increasing the tax on sportsbooks’ revenues from 15 percent to 35 percent.

Read more: Pritzker proposes over $2B in spending growth, backed by tax increases for corporations, sportsbooks

But one of his lead lieutenants this week sent a letter to the head of the state’s agencies instructing them to identify $800 million in collective budget cuts if lawmakers don’t deliver on Pritzker’s tax requests.

“As we continue to work with our General Assembly partners to pass our sixth consecutive balanced budget, it has become clear that opposition to proposed revenue is significant enough to direct agencies to prepare for the possibility of reductions to proposed spending,” Deputy Gov. Andy Manar wrote in the letter to agency directors dated May 7.

Read the letter here

While Manar’s letter was addressed to “Agency Directors,” it was just as much a message to rank-and-file lawmakers – particularly those within the supermajority Democratic party. While ideologically aligned on the major points, Democrats have not been immune to intraparty squabbles throughout Pritzker’s tenure.

The letter comes at a time when lawmakers are entering the final two-week negotiating stretch for the budget before their scheduled May 24 adjournment. (It’s a self-imposed deadline, and that date could be extended a week without changing the number of votes needed to pass a budget).

But it doesn’t mean cuts are definitely coming, or that revenues are cratering amid late-year tax season filings.

To the contrary, Manar’s letter came on the heels of positive news – the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget increased its base General Revenue Fund estimate for the upcoming fiscal year 2025 by $295 million, to $53.3 billion.

Normally, that type of revision, at this time of year – coupled with the GOMB’s $250 million increase for the current fiscal year that ends June 30 – would have lawmakers thinking about new spending.

A table from the latest Governor’s Office of Management and Budget report shows how revenue projections have increased from previous estimates. The highlight was added to signify the current revenue estimates. (Source: Governor’s Office of Management and Budget)

But in noting there’s at least some question as to whether lawmakers would approve the governor’s February revenue proposals, Manar presented a scenario where the opposite could be true.

“And finally, as your agency prepares for the impact of $800 million in potential spending reductions, please focus on grant programs and other discretionary spending that has increased in recent years,” Manar wrote.

Grant programs are some of the most popular spending areas for lawmakers, many of whom are accustomed to celebrating the impact of the dollars in their districts through celebratory news conferences and media releases.

In other words, the letter lays out a dueling reality for lawmakers who are on the fence: curtail popular program spending or get in line with Pritzker’s proposed plan to make the money available.

Manar’s letter was a subject for discussion on the latest episode of “Illinois Lawmakers” – the longest-running Illinois government-focused program in the state’s history that is now a production of Capitol News Illinois.

The episode of “Illinois Lawmakers” will be available Friday afternoon. Find out more at capitolnewsillinois.com/Illinois-lawmakers.

Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, the lead budget negotiator in his chamber, told “Lawmakers” host Jak Tichenor Thursday that Manar’s letter was “a good plan” and not cause for alarm as the session nears its end.

“You always have to have contingencies A, B and C,” Sims said, adding that the governor’s plan is option A, but negotiations must also be a “reflection of the caucuses’ priorities.”

“So I just saw the memo as part of that process – part of the planning process to make sure as we get ready for the final passage, we have all the options before us,” he said.

House Assistant Majority Leader Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, echoed Sims, noting Democrats have come together to pass a balanced budget each year since Pritzker took office, resulting in nine credit rating upgrades from the major New York-based rating agencies.

“So we have to continue to work to get that balanced budget,” Hoffman said. “Now – I don’t know that I agree with the deputy governor on having to have all these revenue enhancements in order to have a balanced budget. But we if we have to make some reductions, we’ll make them.”

Jak Tichenor (left), host of “Illinois Lawmakers” talks with House Assistant Majority Leader Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

Because Pritzker’s revenue generators would pull in an estimated $1.1 billion, there’s room for his plan to pass in part without requiring cuts as drastic as Manar outlined in his Tuesday letter.

Deputy Minority Leader Norine Hammond, R-Macomb, told Tichenor she’s unsurprised by Manar’s letter. The budget ask, she said, has been driven up by competing interest groups all vying for a limited pool of funds.

“And as we know, that becomes a Christmas tree and the revenue needs just become greater and greater,” Hammond said.

But the House GOP’s lead budgeteer also noted her caucus has not been intimately involved in any cross-party budget negotiations thus far.

There are other revenue generators in the governor’s plan as well. It seeks to generate $101 million by capping a sales tax discount claimed by retailers, and to transfer some mass transit costs to the state’s Road Fund to generate $175 million.

Read more: Pritzker agency heads questioned on $1.1 billion revenue proposals

The governor’s office gives far less fanfare to two other proposals: a cap on a widely used personal income tax deduction and a redirection of some tax revenue away from parks and recreation programing.

The former is a $2,550 cap on the standard deduction claimed by millions of Illinoisans to generate $93 million. It was scheduled to grow to $2,775 if lawmakers don’t change the law. The latter would move a portion of real estate transfer taxes to GRF instead of the Open Space Land Acquisition and Development Fund – one of the most popular of all grant programs – to raise $25 million.

Gov. JB Pritzker speaks at an event at the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield on Tuesday, May 7. On the same day, his office sent a memo to state agency directors asking them to identify $800 million in budget cuts. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)

While Manar’s memo lays down a marker for the final two weeks of budget negotiations, it doesn’t drastically change the state’s fiscal landscape from where it was a week ago, when the legislature’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability reported April revenues came in about as expected.

Read more: Democrats flex muscle to kick off final month of session as revenues remain on track

In fact, the GOMB’s new estimate is nearly identical to COGFA’s latest projection.

But the letter does indicate that Pritzker’s budget proposal appears to be facing some turbulence as the plane nears its landing – again, not an uncommon occurrence in Springfield.

Jerry Nowicki is the editor-in-chief of Capitol News Illinois, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news service covering state government that is distributed to hundreds of print and broadcast outlets statewide. It is funded primarily by the Illinois Press Foundation and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, along with major contributions from the Illinois Broadcasters Foundation and Southern Illinois Editorial Association.

Events

July 2024
August 2024
September 2024
October 2024
November 2024
December 2024
January 2025
February 2025
March 2025
April 2025
May 2025
No event found!
Prev Next