Daily Herald opinion: Pritzker's speech at least offers chance for debates we couldn't have had years ago

  • Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his combined budget and State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday in Springfield.

    Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his combined budget and State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly on Wednesday in Springfield. Associated Press Photo

The Daily Herald Editorial Board
Updated 2/17/2023 10:31 AM

After every political speech, there is always room for buts ...

Yes, unemployment is low, but ...


Yes, we have some money to put toward education, but ...

Yes, we have a budget surplus, but ...

Sure, we're giving more money to fight crime, but ...

Regarding Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker's State of the State and Budget Address Wednesday, there are reasonable phrases to complete each of these sentences and many more from a nearly hourlong speech.

But ... (yes, there's that word)

Can we take a moment to bask in the tone of a governor's budget address that we haven't experienced for a long, long time?

Whether due to a temporary infusion of federal COVID relief money, starry-eyed visions of expensive new programs, the impact of new or increased taxes or just prudent fiscal management (choose your pleasure), Pritzker ticked off a list of financial accomplishments that cannot be reasonably disputed: Elimination of a $17 billion backlog of late bills; payment in full of $4.5 billion in Unemployment Trust Fund debt; elimination of $1.3 billion in debt owed to state treasury funds that had been diverted to other uses by several previous administrations; successive $500 million payments to the state's pension stabilization fund with the promise of another $200 million infusion this year.

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And he offered a compelling vision for programs to support Illinois families and strengthen the state's social safety net: a Smart Start Illinois proposal to expand preschool access and facilities, increase the quality and quantity of early-childhood teachers, improve child-care opportunities, buttress programs for children with developmental delays or other issues and provide stronger oversight to find children in distress and address their problems; an additional $506 million bump for K-12 education; a $100 million increase in Monetary Award Program grants to increase access to college; Hundreds of millions in increased funding for business support, community development programs, police and safety efforts and initiatives to fight poverty and homelessness.

Is all this reasonable or practical? Is it sustainable beyond the end of a Pritzker administration? What potential hardships or responsibilities will they impose on future generations? To an extent, answers to questions like these remain to be seen. As the governor himself said, none of it can be done without balanced budgets and sound money management, and much is left to debate regarding the definition or applicability of those terms.

But the fact that we can even have such a discussion is something that not so long ago would have been hard to imagine. And that's a but that, whatever or whoever is responsible for it, worth taking a moment to savor.

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