The Illinois legislature’s Democratic majority highlighted less than $3 billion in expenditures in the future year from a significant injection of federal coronavirus relief money during the brief discussion over a $42 billion state spending plan announced in the final hours of this year’s spring session.
Democrats said they intended to spend the $8.1 billion from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan wisely and avoid building initiatives that would require support after the one-time government financial infusion was gone. They claimed the plan for this year’s relief money included spending $1 billion on infrastructure, with the rest going to hospitals, violence prevention, tourism, and business revival.
The establishment of a state fund that provides Gov. J.B. Pritzker ability to spend billions of dollars from federal money without first gaining approval from lawmakers went unmentioned as lawmakers approved the budget.
Finally, the state’s budget for the fiscal year that began July 1 anticipates spending at least another $2 billion from pandemic relief funds to compensate for “lost income,” leaving less than $3.6 billion to budget out over the following three years.
According to the Pritzker administration, federal laws that weren’t established when lawmakers approved the budget allow the governor to draw into the vast pool of money unilaterally.
The administration claims that using the funds in this manner is also necessary in efforts to put Illinois’ finances on a stable long-term trajectory as the state recovers from the pandemic, noting that its financial maneuvers have resulted in credit upgrades from two Wall Street rating agencies and an improved outlook from a third.
Allowing the governor to use the funds without a legislative appropriation gave the state “flexibility to adjust to the regulations as our knowledge of them developed over the course of the year,” according to Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh.
According to state Rep. Tom Demmer of Dixon, a lead budget negotiator for the House GOP, after the Democrats’ final budget plan was introduced May 31, there was no discussion in committee or on the House floor about creating a fund that would allow Pritzker to spend a portion of the federal money without an appropriation from the legislature.
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