Six months after state lawmakers hastily approved Illinois’ 2022 budget, a hidden discretionary fund has been identified that would give Governor JB Pritzker full control of $2 billion in federal aid for COVID-19.
More than six months after lawmakers in Springfield hurriedly passed Illinois’s $42 billion annual budget in the dead of night, an analysis by the Chicago Tribune revealed a secretive stray fund giving Governor J.B. Pritzker the power to spend $2 billion in federal aid without approval. from the general. General Assembly.
State lawmakers who were given only hours to review the 4,000-page Democratic spending proposal before the vote on June 1, said the majority failed to mention the hidden clause. Budget debates were deliberately restricted in the House and Senate by delivering the massive document again at the last minute, a practice perfected by former Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan.
Members of the Republican minority have demanded more transparency and a contribution to how coronavirus relief money is spent. GOP budget negotiator Rep. Tom Demmer has called the move a “mock game” and is pushing for legislative approval before Pritzker spends the money.
Pritzker said that $2 billion in discretionary spending is necessary to achieve financial stability for the state and “lost revenue.” The governor needs “flexibility” to adjust to changing federal rules on relief spending by circumventing protracted debates in the General Assembly.
But why the governor waited until six months after the vote to make his case rather than publicly debate how pandemic relief money should be spent goes back to the Madigan-era aphorism about governance in Illinois: negotiate in secret, and vote when it is too late to oppose .
Pritzker’s extra $2 billion plan was easy to overlook, as a report from the Governor’s Budget Office detailing the use of COVID-19 relief expenditures neglected to mention the sluggish fund. It was also missing from the administration’s August report to the federal government on the state’s recovery plan.
While states are prohibited from using federal relief dollars to pay debts or make pension payments, the money can be used to make up for revenue lost due to the pandemic if it is spent on government services allowed in the US bailout.
Allocating more than $2 billion in coronavirus aid to cover authorized expenses frees up more money to pay off debts that federal funds can’t use. The state therefore expects to use this money to pay off $1.9 billion in federal and state loans rather than directing the money to support struggling Illinois residents.
Dimmer said the extra money would prevent Democrats from needing to cut government spending or delay debt payments. It will leave less than $3.6 billion in relief dollars for the budget over the next three years.
It should come as no surprise to state lawmakers who give Pritzker an autonomy of more than $2 billion. After all, they had allowed him emergency powers unilaterally for 665 consecutive days.