Illinois House passes $53.1 billion budget after floor theatrics

SPRINGFIELD — Instead of delivering a decisive budget victory to Gov. J.B. Pritzker, Democrats stood on the Illinois House floor scratching their heads early Wednesday as they searched for a key vote needed to pass the state’s budget.

When all was said and done, the Democratic-led House eked out a vote of 60-47, the bare minimum needed to clear a revenue package — one of three budget bills that had been approved by the Senate on Sunday. By 4:43 a.m., more than four hours after legislators began taking up the budget, the House approved the $53.1 billion budget that relies on $1.2 billion in revenue from several changes to the state’s tax code.

“No matter what the other chamber says, no one’s ever said the House is boring,” Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, told lawmakers after the contentious vote. “The House is definitely not boring.”

Pritzker’s office had optimistically put out a statement after the budget’s spending plan cleared the House 65-45, following more than an hour of debate. But what came afterward were theatrics, foot stomping and both sides trying to utilize floor rules to their advantage. Shortly before the third revenue vote, Republicans sifted through the Democrat-drafted House rule book to see how they could stall another vote.

An initial vote to clear the revenue bill included a request for verification — meaning all members had to be present to approve it. State Rep. Aaron Ortiz, D-Chicago, was marked as a yes vote, but was nowhere to be found. From there, it took several motions to reconsider and another two votes to get the bill passed.

It was a big sign that House Democrats were not all in on Pritzker’s budget, especially his revenue package which counted on a $200 million tax hike on sportsbooks, capping the discount that retailers receive for collecting sales tax at $1,000 per month, and extending limits on the amount of operating losses corporations can write off on their income taxes — a maneuver estimated to generate another $526 million for the state.

“I think it should be called to everyone what this super majority is willing to do to ram a tax increase down the throats of the citizens of Illinois at 4:30 in the morning,” State Rep. Patrick Windhorst, R-Harrisburg, said before the third vote. “Three votes. Three votes.”

Lawmakers began debating the three main budget bills: appropriations, budget implementation and revenue measures after midnight Wednesday, per House rules. Some lawmakers draped themselves in blankets. Others could be seen nodding off.

Welch had been whipping votes for most of the morning. He was able to get 65 Democrats to support the spending plan and 62 to approve the budget implementation plan. But the revenue measure was trickier, with some members upset about the taxes in the measure — and that the governor’s office didn’t want to reduce overall spending in the budget.

Republicans had also lamented that total spending in state budgets keeps increasing.

Theatrics aside, the governor is expected to sign the budget package, which largely mirrors his February proposal. Lawmakers also voted to eliminate the 1% tax on groceries. Municipalities would also be able to implement their own grocery tax up to 1% without a referendum and without requiring fees.

The budget includes a child tax credit for children under the age of 12 which would provide a credit of 20% of the state’s earned income tax credit this year, and 40% in 2025.

It also funds Pritzker’s Smart Start program, which aims to add 5,000 preschool seats across the state and to provide grants. And while the plan did not directly address pension reform, it would make the full pension payment that is required by law and send $198 million to the state’s rainy day fund.

Just like the Senate debate, some House Republicans complained that the budget prioritizes the migrant crisis and the undocumented — $182 million for migrants and $440 million in healthcare costs for undocumented people — over Illinois citizens.

Three key measures didn’t make it through the House after Senate passage, killing them for the spring session: a measure opposed by Pritzker’s office that would have made key reforms to the Illinois Prisoner Review Board, an omnibus cannabis measure and another that would have banned unregulated hemp products, like delta-8.

Instead, the House adjourned just before 5 a.m. on Wednesday. Lawmakers had been in session since noon on Tuesday.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said both the cannabis and hemp measures didn’t have the required 60 votes to pass. He said he hopes both are taken up during this year’s veto session.

“I think it got to the point where (the cannabis industry) wanted to regulate it, because (it) feels that this product hurts social equity or it hurts the business of cannabis,” Ford said, referring to delta-8. “But in my opinion, I think they both could exist, like wine and beer and spirits. And that’s what I’m hoping that we could get to.”

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