Pritzker urges lawmakers to help address state budget’s $6 billion deficit


With the fall session of the Illinois General Assembly canceled, Gov. J.B. Pritzker could call for a special session. But, he hasn’t indicated such, despite the state’s $6 billion budget hole.

On Wednesday, Pritzker said he wanted to tackle things like criminal justice reform in the fall session, but that’s been canceled by legislative leaders.

“The health and safety of the people who work for and serve in the Illinois General Assembly, and their respective families, is paramount,” said Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago. “We will continue to monitor the situation, consult medical experts and do intend to schedule additional session days so we can finish our important work.”

“This is not the time to physically bring together hundreds of people from all around the state. Given what’s happening, it was an obvious decision,” said Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park. “It’s not safe or responsible to have a legislative session under these circumstances.”

The legislature passed a budget in May that relies on $6 billion. Of that, $5 billion is in borrowing from a federal reserve loan program. More than $1 billion relied on the progressive income tax voters rejected last week.

The governor said he’s working to shore up the state’s finances to repair Illinois’ worst-in-the-nation credit rating.

“I’m very, very focused on making sure our credit rating agencies don’t downgrade the state of Illinois,” Pritzker said.

Illinois’ credit rating is a notch above junk status with a negative outlook. Credit rating agencies have said the failure of the progressive income tax makes things more precarious and signaled budget cuts and tax increases may be needed.

Pritzker said lawmakers are going to have to come together to help deal with the budget.

“There’s more to be done than just trimming,” Pritzker said. “Now we’re going to have to make serious and frankly painful cuts. Those aren’t things I can do alone. The legislature has to be right there with us.”

He stopped short of calling a special session.

Before Harmon and Madigan canceled the veto session Tuesday, citing COVID-19 concerns, Republican state Reps Avery Bourne, R-Raymon, and Mark Batinick, R-Plainfield, speculated what that means to them.

“I think that’s a strong signal that the speaker is weak,” Bourne said.

“If session is canceled, I think it means [Madigan] doesn’t have 60 votes, is what I think it means,” Batinick said.

Bourne said there needs to be a session to tackle a myriad of things, sooner rather than later.

“Not the least of which is the checks and balances that need to occur on coronavirus response,” Bourne said.

Several lawmakers have pushed for public hearings about the governor’s COVID-19 orders, how federal aid is being distributed, the state’s fledgling unemployment agency and more.

Lawmakers aren’t scheduled back until just before the new General Assembly is seated next year.

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