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Some question ‘investments’ in Illinois’ state budget

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(The Center Square) – Democratic budget negotiators say they are putting substantial investments into Illinois’ future, but some question whether spending more taxpayer money is really investing.

In just over two weeks, Illinois’ new budget will take effect. Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the largest spending plan in state history, which he said also expands and creates new programs.

“We put an additional $400 million into preschool access, childcare workforce, early intervention and home visiting programs across Illinois, all of which will be eventually housed in our new Department of Early Childhood,” Pritzker said.

The first year of the phase-in for the new department will cost an additional $13 million in fiscal year 2025.

State Sen. Elgie Sims, D-Chicago, said Illinois is on the right track and to not let anyone tell you differently.

“The reality is we are making the investments necessary to grow our state’s economy but also make Illinois a better place for those who live, work and call Illinois home,” Sims said.

In addition to the $350 million increase for K-12 education is $45 million for the second of a three-year program meant to improve the teacher pipeline. Monetary Award Program grants for eligible college students is increasing by $10 million, with $30.6 million in increases for university and community college operations.

Separately, state Sen. Jason Plummer, R-Edwardsville, took issue with the term “investment.” He said increasing spending may not be prudent with Illinois’ economic headwinds.

“Our performance of jobs, outmigration, business startups, the unemployment rate,” Plummer told The Center Square.

Illinois is among the states that lost population over the past decade with annual estimates from the U.S. Census indicating the state continues to lose population due to people moving to other states.

“If you look at the education results we’re seeing in certain places, we’ve got real issues,” Plummer said.

In evaluating Illinois’ evidence-based funding formula, Wirepoints found $8.5 billion more in new funding for K-12 schools in the past seven years, but said the increased funding “has been a flop” with “worse results or meager gains in reading proficiency.”

“A number of districts have since reached and exceeded 100% of their funding targets, and yet their student proficiency scores are still dismal, many of them worse-off than before,” a recent Wirepoints report said.

Plummer said he continues “to see this mindset that spending money is investment and that’s just not how it works.”

There are three overarching issues Plummer said he has with the budget: The lack of transparency in the budget making process, the lack of accountability and the budget priorities he said do not align with what taxpayers expect.

“We’re going to have significant expenses that are going to be expected to be paid and our revenue is obviously going to collapse unless we go back to the majority party’s favorite ATM, the people of Illinois, and tap them for more money,” Plummer said.

The $53.1 billion spending plan that begins July 1 is supported by $750 million in tax increases.

Among the additional spending the budget sets out is $185 million for the Illinois Department of Human Services for around 200 different organizations for violence prevention and youth summer jobs programs, $30 million for a program aimed at reducing violent crimes committed with firearms, and $500 million for quantum related spending,

There’s also more than $900 million in the budget for non-citizen migrant health care, housing, legal services and welcoming centers.

Among the largest items in the budget is $10.1 billion for the state’s underfunded pension system.

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