It took years for Illinois’ fiscal situation to get as terrible as it is. It will take time to dig out of it, too.
That message clearly came through during Gov. JB Pritzker’s first budget address Wednesday. Pritzker did not sugarcoat the state of Illinois’ financial challenges during his address: $3.2 billion budget deficit, $15 billion debt in unpaid bills, $133.5 billion unfunded pension liability. We are cautious and concerned about some of the ideas he presented. Yet we found Pritzker’s speech to be a realistic, but still optimistic, message from the person who starts off the annual state budget process.
The more than $38 billion spending plan, which covers the fiscal year that starts July 1, is done under the existing flat income tax structure, which Pritzker reiterated he wants to change to a progressive income tax structure where wealthy people would in theory pay more in taxes.
It takes a constitutional amendment to do that, and the earliest that can get before voters is November 2020. Pritzker told the editorial board of the State Journal-Register, the Journal Star’s sister newspaper, in an interview after his speech that he wants lawmakers this year to approve putting it on the ballot. Much of his long-term budget plans hinge on that tax system being in place, he said, and he needs to know how likely it is to happen.