SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WTVO/AP) — Illinois lawmakers approved an approximately $40 billion state budget early Sunday that largely maintains spending, along with a plan to push forward a Chicago casino, during an extraordinary special session held amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The budget, which largely relies on federal funding, mostly maintains funding from the current budget, which the exception of health care agencies affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The House vote was 68-44 and was largely along party lines. Senate Republicans also voted against the plan, objecting to a small spending spike during a time of uncertainty. The Senate vote was 37-19.
The pandemic that prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker to issue a statewide stay-at-home order left businesses across the state closed. Between that and the 1 million Illinois residents out of work by the pandemic, lawmakers say the state will have under $37 billion in revenue. As a result, lawmakers looked to Washington to fill the hole in the budget.
The new spending plans included up to $5 billion in loans from a Federal Reserve program designed to help during the pandemic.
“This budget begins to address the financial upheaval we are facing, but more hard choices about how to spend and save these dollars wisely remain to be made,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a statement. He said the plan “recognizes that massive economic disruption leads to difficult decisions.”
Top Republicans said the efforts fell short.
Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said lawmakers didn’t make any efforts to reform ethics, pensions or property taxes. He called the special session and spending plan “the same old song and dance, the same movie you’ve watched 20 times before.”
School districts and higher education will receive roughly the same amount of funding as 2020. The budget also has $20 million in public health grants to help hospitals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Legislators also approved a plan pushed by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to change the tax structure for a casino in the city. The Chicago casino was included in last year’s gambling expansion authorizing six new casinos, part of a critical funding source for the state’s $45 billion capital plan.
However, an experts’ study found the tax structure would make it difficult for the Chicago casino to be profitable. Along with altering the tax structure, the new plan delays the deadline for casino applicants to pay license fees.
“The idea is to make this work for Chicago, so that we could fund a vertical capital (bill), put people to work,” said Blue Island Democratic Rep. Bob Rita, who sponsored the measure. “Not only for Chicago but for everywhere in the entire state of Illinois. This is good for everyone for jobs and development – having a Chicago casino be real.”
Along with the budget bill, lawmakers also passed Senate Bill 1569 (SB1569) an education funding bill aimed at protecting students and educators in the face of COVID-19. SB 1569 does the following:
- Special Education – Calls for ISBE to work with the federal government to acquire waivers from certain provisions of individualized education plans, also known as IEPs, that cannot be fulfilled during stay-at-home orders. It also lays out ways to measure a school district’s capabilities to provide special education services during the pandemic.
- Remote learning – Provides districts the ability to create and implement both e-learning and blended remote learning days.
- Educator licensure extension – Provides a year-long licensure extension for those teaching and education support professional licenses set to expire on June 30, 2020.
- Teacher performance evaluations – Outlines procedures and protections for performance evaluations, including a carryover of an “Excellent” rating from the previous evaluation period.
- Teacher dismissal and remediation plans – Provides procedures and protections for teacher dismissal hearings and remediation plans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our students and our educators can rest assured no matter what school you attend or work in – your school will have adequate funding to operate without negatively impacting our students’ education or our educators’ livelihoods,” IEA President Kathi Griffin said. “We know we are living in unprecedented times, but we are grateful the legislature continues to recognize the importance of a high-quality education for the students who live in our great state.”
“This budget means our students won’t miss out anything this fall no matter what back to school looks like this year. We also believe the budget passed by the General Assembly means our schools and universities will have the funding necessary to prevent any cuts to education positions from pre-K-12 teachers to support staff to our higher education professors.”
The governor also announced specific guidelines for specific industries when they re-open this week.
“In every aspect of our pandemic response, and especially as we begin to safely reopen meaningful swaths of our economy, our number one priority must be the health and safety of our workers, our customers, and Illinoisans at large,” said Governor JB Pritzker. “The industry-specific baseline guidance for businesses the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity released today will help employers re-open their doors in Phase 3 in line with that priority. In order to cover as many unique aspects of industry as possible, my administration collected input from hundreds of industry participants across the state and these guidelines reflect the questions and ideas brought to us by businesses of every size, background, and region in the state – and prioritize public health as our guiding light. You can’t build a strong economy if people aren’t comfortable being a part of it.”
Phase 3 of Restore Illinois is expected to bring approximately 700,000 Illinoisans back to the workplace, a key step towards getting the Illinois economy back on track—with an estimated 20 percent, or $150 billion in annual GDP, of the overall economy returned to operations.
“New guidance provided by the State today will help ensure a safe reopening for businesses, customers and communities at large,” said Michael Negron, Assistant Director of DCEO. “As Illinois works toward its recovery, DCEO is committed to providing businesses across our state clear and actionable guidance that will allow them to implement safe operations so they can get back on track.”
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