Gov. Pritzker’s State of the State Draws Reactions Along Party Lines

By Benjamin Cox on February 19, 2023 at 9:54am

Governor J.B. Pritzker’s State of the State Budget address on Wednesday shows a clear division between state Democrats and Republicans.

Pritzker unveiled a nearly $50 billion state budget that makes a heavy investment in early childhood education. The early childhood initiative called “Smart Start Illinois” will focus on the importance of pre-school, child care for working families, early intervention programs, and home visits. Pritzker says the goal is to bring early childhood education to places and people in the state that don’t currently have it: “Enhancing quality early care and education is a win-win solution for re-mobilizing parents in the workforce, enhancing brain development and kindergarten readiness, saving taxpayers money, and increasing economic activity now and in the decades ahead.”

Pritzker also didn’t mince words when it came to the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade and women’s reproductive rights: “This is a result of a national conservative crusade to legislate against the most intimate matters of a woman’s basic healthcare. I’m sure that there are some elected officials who would like us to stop talking about abortion. Well, too bad.”

Pritzker also slammed those whom he called “demagogues” that he said are pushing censorship in schools by banning books and not teaching what he called the nation’s full history: “It’s an ideological battle by the right wing, hiding behind a claim that they would protect our children — but whose real intention is to marginalize people and ideas they don’t like.”

Deputy Republican House Leader Norine Hammond of Macomb, who also is the Republican chief budgeteer in the House, says she’s concerned about all the new spending in the governor’s budget: “There are so many programs and expanded programs in this budget or ‘wishlist’ if you will from the governor that I’m very skeptical that we will be able to afford in the long term. You can’t promise people services and not be able to deliver. We know looking at this budget that we are going to be about $2.75 billion short of the spending that was done last year, so we have to tighten our belts. We don’t have any choice here if we are going to actually be able to take care of the programs that are already currently in place and fully fund them.”

Hammond’s sentiments were echoed by State Representative C.D. Davidsmeyer in a statement on his Facebook calling the governor’s proposals “simply unsustainable.” Davidsmeyer followed that up by saying that Pritzker painted an overly positive picture but glossed over a possible hit to taxpayers: “It’s pretty easy to paint a positive budget picture in the State of Illinois when you’ve been bailed out by the federal government for the last 2-3 years. Inflation, while it hurts the average family, the state government benefits from that because when prices increase, the amount of sales tax you pay increases. We’re getting a windfall from all of these bad things. There’s a lot of focus on large, major companies coming into the State of Illinois, and right now, we’re leaving all the small businesses behind. We’re passing more regulation on them, and we need to stop that, put our priorities in the right place, because those are the job providers.”

50th District State Senator Jil Tracy says that the governor’s ramped up spending on new and expanded program may be a roundabout way to seek a state tax increase: “He talked about so many new programs that would spend a lot of money. I just think we are spending into a reason for him to ask for a tax increase later. That would not be the first time, and it seems like he’s expanding many worthy programs and starting new worthy programs. I’m all about child care, and most of all, we have an access to child care problem. Affordability is certainly another part of that, but I want to make sure that downstate we have access. We have much problems there with access and affordability to child care.”

Tracy says she’s also not heard a budget address where the opposing party was blamed for problems that she called “unfounded.” Tracy says she was also disappointed that Pritzker didn’t address downstate energy bill increases that Senate Republicans held a press conference about on Tuesday.

Besides childcare and early childhood program increases, Pritzker also is proposing more money for K-12 education, college MAP Grants, creating an online portal to help entrepreneurs and small businesses, and creating programs to ease worker shortages in a variety of fields. Pritzker is also proposing the start of the “Illinois Grocery Initiative” to help independent grocery stores open or expand in under-served areas of the state called “grocery deserts.”