(The Center Square) – Topping $50 billion, Illinois Democrats say they have reached a budget agreement.
The proposed fiscal 2024 budget is similar to what Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled earlier this year.
It includes $700 million for K-12 and early childhood education, and an additional $100 million so those under the median income can go to community college tuition free but at taxpayer expense.
“From the beginning, I vowed to work with the General Assembly to bring fiscal sanity to Illinois while restoring a compassionate state government that invests in the things that build a stronger economy and future. I’m pleased to say that’s exactly what this balanced budget does, for the fifth time in a row,” Pritzker said.
Pritzker has claimed in the past that all budgets passed since he first took office have been balanced, but fiscal watchdogs say they have included accounting “tricks” to make them appear to be balanced when they actually aren’t. Republicans in the General Assembly have criticized majority Democrats for introducing proposed spending plans at the end of session, giving lawmakers and the general public no time to scrutinize the details.
Pritzker said the state has given Chicago nearly $200 million over the last nine months to help with the surge of migrants, and adds that the Senate and the House have given his administration the tools to manage health care for Illinoisans, including noncitizen foreign nationals descending on the state.
“We are going to continue to do everything that we can,” Pritzker said. “This is a humanitarian crisis, and we want to make sure that the state and the city are doing what they can.”
The budget agreement includes a nearly $75 million increase for the embattled Department of Children and Family Services to hire 192 staff, expand training and protection and improve facilities. DCFS has been under heavy criticism in recent years for neglect suffered by children within its care, including deaths.
Left on the cutting room floor was the Invest in Kids program, Illinois’ closest thing to school choice. State Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, said there appeared to be bipartisan support for the program, and that was evident when a letter supporting the program was distributed.
“Several of us put out a letter last week, it was all Republican signatories on it,” Halbrook told The Center Square. “Some of the Democrats were approached about it, they spoke favorably, but they didn’t want to sign.”
Unless there is a last-minute change to the budget, Invest in Kids comes to close at the end of the year.
The budget still has to be passed both both chambers of the legislature and be signed by Pritzker before it becomes law. The General Assembly has until May 31 to vote on and pass the budget.