Illinois governor makes $700M in cuts with $3.9B budget hole

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CHICAGO (AP) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker ordered roughly $700 million in budget cuts Tuesday, saying Illinois faces a $3.9 billion shortfall fueled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The agency cuts include a hiring freeze, reduced overtime and grant reductions, which don’t require legislative approval.

The first-term Democrat had predicted painful reductions after voters rejected a graduated income tax plan in November. Pritzker had pitched it as a way to pay down backlogged bills, debt and address revenue gaps legislators had hoped federal pandemic relief would fill. The new system, which would have taken effect Jan. 1, was estimated to generate $3 billion more annually.

“Because tax fairness was taken of the table, there will be a real human impact here,” Pritzker told reporters at a Chicago new conference. “While we’ve scoured the budget for ways to cause the least pain, I’m sorry to say that we simply cannot prevent these losses from touching the real lives of our residents.”

He blasted Republicans and others who fought the tax amendment in a costly campaign. Critics deemed the change from the current flat-rate income tax as a blank check for Democrats.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin called it a self-inflicted problem, with a budget approved by the Democrat-run House and Senate that was heavily reliant on the hope for federal assistance.

“Instead of living within our means, they attempted to trick voters into raising taxes, and were sorely rejected by Democrat, Republican and Independent voters across the state,” Durkin said in a statement.

Roughly $2 billion of the current deficient is because of a pandemic-related revenue shortfall, Pritzker said. Illinois also has a long history of fiscal issues, including unfunded pension liability.

Under the cuts, the Department of Human Services will see a $126 million reduction with a hiring freeze, less overtime and reduced grants. Also included is a $68 million reduction at the Department of Transportation, which means less money for buying equipment.

Pritzker said he also plans to look for cost savings with the state’s Department of Corrections, which has seen fewer inmates and work with Illinois’ largest public-sector union to make $75 million in personnel changes, including furlough days.

However, Nell McNamara, a spokeswoman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, said state employees have “already sacrificed so much in our current public health crisis” and shouldn’t “bear an outsized share of the burden of fixing the state’s fiscal crisis as well.”

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Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter: https://twitter.com/sophiatareen.

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