Lawmakers discuss 2021 state budget
by Jason Merel
Two Northwest Side lawmakers discussed the $42.8 billion state budget for next year after the General Assembly approved it recently during a brief special session and sent it to Governor J.B. Pritzker for signature.
The budget addresses several issues affecting the state including COVID-19 response, state recovery and infrastructure initiatives, as well as keeping funding flat to the same levels as this year for most state programs, including K-12 schools, as well as for state universities and funding for the Monetary Aid Program and AIM HIGH grants.
Pritzker’s budget proposal said that the budget would face a $7.4 billion shortfall for fiscal year 2021 due to decreased tax revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Part of that shortfall would be recouped by the state if the graduated income tax bill slated to be on the November ballot passes. However, the projected increase in state revenue from a graduated tax will not cover the entire shortfall. The General Assembly voted to borrow approximately $5 billion in federal funds, which legislators anticipate receiving back from federal COVID-19 recovery packages.
"This was a responsible budget to provide certainty and stability to our businesses, to our residents and non-profits," State Senator Ram Villivalam (D-8) said. "But we need the federal government to step up. Illinois is one of the top five states as far as dollars that go out to the federal government. We are in the bottom five when receiving them back. I understand that Illinois can’t be in the top five states receiving federal money back, but we can’t be in the bottom five."
Villivalam was referring to analyses conducted by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, that rank each state based on a ratio of tax dollars given to the federal government to federal monies received back in various forms of subsidies and aid programs. Illinois has been giving more money to the federal government than it receives for years.
Villivalam said that approximately $600 million in funding was allocated to assist small businesses with accessing loans, grants and business disruption insurance as Illinois businesses recover from the impact of COVID-19. Funding for the Department of Public Health including $416 million in federal funds for testing and services provided by local health departments, is slated to grow to more than $1.6 billion, according to published reports.
"Small businesses are the engines of our economy," Villivalam said. "They provide jobs and vital services to the people in our communities. We need to support them.
Villivalam said the budget sent to Gov. Pritzker also included nearly $60 million in funding to expand the capacity of the state’s unemployment system. He said that some of this funding would allow the Illinois Department of Employment Security to upgrade technology and hire additional staff.
The fiscal year 2021 state budget also includes provisions that fund justice reform, public safety, early childhood education, health and social service programs.
Lieutenant governor Juliana Stratton’s Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative was established by executive order in February 2019 to centralize and coordinate the state’s criminal justice reform efforts. The initiative identifies several approaches to justice reform, which includes building relationships between communities, state agencies and organizations to gain the trust of those communities to improve the state’s criminal justice system. The initiative supports research and pilot programs that test criminal justice methods using data analysis to determine a program’s effectiveness.
State Representative Lindsey LaPointe (D-19) previously worked with one of the pilot programs, Adult Redeploy Illinois, a grant program that gives money to counties around the state to set up probation and supervision programs for non-violent offenders.
"The whole idea is that instead of sending non-violent offenders to prison, which is not known for rehabilitation, these programs allow people to stay in their communities with supervision and services that address the root causes of crime, at a much lower cost to taxpayers," LaPointe said. "This evidence-based approach has shown to improve rehabilitation outcomes."
LaPointe said legislators also worked to create employment protections for essential workers. Essential workers who have to miss work due to contracting COVID-19 will now receive additional protections when filing for workers compensation. The budget provides that any essential worker that contracts COVID-19 under assumption that they contracted it while working will be eligible for workers compensation benefits.