As the 2021 legislative session comes to a close, Governor JB Pritzker discussed progress for Illinois families: particularly a historic and fiscally responsible state budget that pays down debt, closes loopholes for wealthy corporations, and invests in rebuilding our economy.
“I came into this office two sessions ago with a promise to always meet our most basic responsibility: a REAL balanced budget. For the third straight year, I’ll sign into law another balanced budget for Illinois that demonstrates fiscal responsibility works with a progressive vision of governance,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “All of these achievements collectively mark a significant turning point for our state. I want to thank my partners in the General Assembly for making this trajectory possible. Together, we’ve worked to solve the problems of the past while managing the challenges of the present and keeping a sharp eye on the future.”
The following are the Governor’s remarks as delivered:
Four years ago, Illinoisans were grappling with a state budget crisis that crippled our schools, our human services, our universities, our confidence about our ability to work together for the common good. Our working families, our seniors, our students, our most vulnerable residents, paid the price for it. And over the course of the prior administration, our state suffered 8 credit downgrades, forcing the state to pay more to do less. Unfortunately, Illinois became an example for the nation of what happens when government and budgets are mismanaged.
Four years later, amidst the pain and loss caused by a deadly global pandemic, Illinois has become, instead, an example for the nation of how resilient our people are, not only in helping our families and our neighbors persist through a financial crisis and a health crisis, but also in managing through the state’s fiscal challenges.
I came into this office two sessions ago with a promise to always meet our most basic responsibility: a REAL balanced budget.
For the third straight year, I’ll sign into law another balanced budget for Illinois that demonstrates fiscal responsibility works with a progressive vision of governance.
Today, ours is a budget that addresses the historical structural deficit and makes responsible choices, paying off debt early, nearly eliminating our backlog of bills, and making critical investments to stimulate economic growth, jobs, and opportunity for our people. All while keeping our operating budget flat aside from education and critical human services. And for the third year in a row, we’re making our full pension payment.
Not only that: this budget also ensures the entire $3.2 billion borrowed from the Fed in the bleakest moments of the pandemic will be paid in full more than a full calendar year ahead of its due date. Doing that saves taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in interest payments.
I want to pause on that for a moment, because all of these achievements collectively mark a significant turning point for our state.
Republicans like to badmouth the state and yet they’re the ones who wanted to irresponsibly spend one-time American rescue Plan dollars to paper over our structural deficit. In contrast, we Democrats are investing in priorities that will grow and revitalize our economy, improving our fiscal outlook DRAMATICALLY, and reducing tax expenditures on the wealthiest corporations. It’s the Democrats that are getting the state’s fiscal house in order.
That’s the story of this budget. That’s the story of Illinois in 2021.
Fiscal discipline pays off. I’ve been in office for fewer than 900 days. And in that time – despite the greatest public health challenge in a generation – the bill backlog has been nearly eliminated — down to 30 days or less. We’re paying our bills on time – and saving tens of millions of taxpayer dollars in interest.
I want to thank my partners in the General Assembly for making this trajectory possible, especially Speaker Chris Welch and President Don Harmon, budget leaders Greg Harris and Elgie Sims and their respective teams. Together, we’ve worked to solve the problems of the past while managing the challenges of the present and keeping a sharp eye on the future. Thanks to new leadership in the General Assembly, a willingness to put discipline over desire, the fierce advocacy of so many across our state fighting for a better Illinois: we are changing our story about Illinois.
A commitment to a robust and inclusive future also guides our first investments of Illinois’ $8.4 billion in federal relief dollars, which will fund initiatives and priorities over the next three (and a half) years.
Republicans wanted to use our one-time COVID relief funds to kick the budget can down the road and give favors to wealthy business interests. Instead, those dollars should be used to bring real relief to working families and spur economic recovery and safety in our communities.
I’m proud that my administration partnered with the General Assembly to craft a robust economic recovery package.
That includes over $570 million for economic recovery for small businesses, entrepreneurs and the most heavily impacted industries, notably $300 million more for our Back to Business grant program. Earlier in the pandemic, Illinois was one of the first and only states to get $540 million in relief to thousands of small businesses and childcare providers, and this new funding will expand the reach of the nation-leading Business Interruption Grant program.
We’ll also bolster our pandemic response, mitigating COVID-19’s impacts, and strengthening our public health infrastructure for a safer future for all.
And $1 BILLION will jumpstart critical projects in our plans to Rebuild Illinois, hastening much-needed improvements – like our Connect Illinois broadband plan – and getting more jobs into more communities.
Illinois is also doing more than ever before to stop the violence that ravages too many vulnerable communities: trauma that ALSO deserves relief, just as much as economic pain. We’re allocating more than $100 million for multi-pronged, comprehensive violence prevention and intervention efforts here in Illinois. My administration has worked with Senator Robert Peters and Representative Justin Slaughter, along with others in the General Assembly, to shape the Reimagine Act to prevent gun violence. That includes creating a new Office of Firearm Violence Prevention, addressing trauma recovery from chronic exposure to gun violence for Illinois adults, and increasing funding for the COVID-19 Summer Youth Employment Program, which my administration launched last summer to deliver more opportunities to communities who are hurting. I’ll be spending more time this summer talking about what these investments mean for our state, but I want to be clear: these are historic investments that have never before been made in Illinois, investments in real solutions — and they’re critical steps in our efforts to tackle root causes of violence.
Our state will also be increasing our help for housing, providing over $100 million for affordable housing and addressing homelessness, building on the $1.5 billion in rental relief I recently announced to further our mission of providing affordable, stable housing for all Illinoisans. I want to commend Senator Mattie Hunter and Representative Will Guzzardi sponsoring the affordable housing omnibus and working hard to send it to my desk. Together we are elevating the impact of these programs to new heights.
The General Assembly has also paved the way for Illinois to join the bipartisan coalition of states utilizing vaccine lotteries to encourage more residents to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The best thing we can do to protect ourselves and our loved ones is to have as many people vaccinated as possible, so be on the lookout for further announcements on this front soon. Also, and this is a personal favorite of mine: in Illinois, soon you’ll be able to get a beer and a shot – or a shot and a shot, whatever suits your pallet.
I want to do a lightning round for all of the progress that was made this legislative session:
On ethics, there are new guardrails to stop abuses like the revolving door and lobbying while working for government. It isn’t perfect and more work remains, but there are more ways of putting a stop to corruption today than we ever had before.
On cannabis, I’m so proud of the work Toi Hutchinson did with Rep LaShawn Ford and Leader Kim Lightford to expand opportunities for people from vulnerable communities to get into this new industry – continuing our work to be at the to be at the forefront of cannabis equity.
On gun safety, Illinois State Police Director Brendan Kelly worked closely with advocates and lawmakers to streamline FOID card applications and expand incentives for background checks.
On social justice, we are recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday but more importantly, as a time to celebrate emancipation.
So, before I take questions, I want to close by saying that this has been another landmark legislative session and the people of Illinois are better for these efforts. I want to thank the members of the General Assembly for their work to bring so many vital efforts across the finish line.