AP NEWS

Pritzker’s budget address contains contradictions

February 22, 2019

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s first budget address was full of contradictions.

The first-term Democratic governor promised to reach across the aisle and work with conservatives on compromises to help mend the state’s many fiscal woes.

“We are all here, Democrats and Republicans, with the common desire to serve the people of our state well. And we do that well when we talk to each other and, more importantly, listen to each other,” he said.

Later, Pritzker unapologetically touted the speed with which he pushed through a $15 minimum wage hike in his first month in office, even when conservatives and downstate job creators pleaded with him to slow down and discuss potential compromises.

“I worked with the appropriate amount of haste to change [the minimum wage],” Pritzker boasted. “When your house is burning down, you don’t wait for the rain to put out the fire.”

The governor said he will face decades-old fiscal problems with new ideas, then offered up the same proposals that have been discussed in Springfield for years — a progressive income tax, gambling expansion, more borrowing, pushing pension payments further down the road.

Pritzker claimed he inherited a fiscal 2020 budget with a $3.2 billion structural deficit before saying the budget proposal he was presenting Wednesday is balanced with $1.1 billion in additional revenue and massive spending hikes.

Speaking of that, Pritzker said the state must hold the line on spending. He then proposed hundreds of millions of dollars in new spending in the next fiscal year alone — $100 million more for preschool grants for lower-income families; a 5 percent increase for public universities and community colleges; and $50 million more to help lower-income students attend college.

In a state flush with cash, these are worthy investments. In one with a $3.2 billion budget deficit, they are fiscally irresponsible.

The governor also promised to work with both Republicans and Democrats “on a downstate revitalization plan to encourage the creation of new businesses and jobs and foster the growth of existing ones in struggling communities so they can thrive.”

And, again, he bragged about the minimum wage hike, which Republicans and business owners maintain will be job killers, particularly downstate.

Finally, there is Pritzker’s top priority, switching from a flat tax to a progressive income tax system, which he promised would not raise taxes on the middle class.

To hear him tell it, a progressive tax system — where higher wage earners pay larger portions of their income in taxes than lower wage earners — is the magic pill that will cure Illinois’ fiscal disease.

“A fair [progressive] tax will change the arc of Illinois’ finances forever,” he said.

But he again didn’t share details about how his progressive tax system would work and how it would impact all taxpayers.

“My office intends to immediately begin negotiations over proposed fair tax rates with leaders from the House and Senate,” he said. “Conversations and debate about rate structures and how much revenue we need to raise are appropriate.”

Pritzker apparently doesn’t know how much new revenue the state needs to pay for his spending priorities. That means he can’t possibly know whether it will require a tax increase on the middle class or not.

But without real spending and pension reform, it will.

That should scare all taxpayers.

So should his contradictions.