Suburban Democrats eye education funding ahead of Pritzker budget proposal

Suburban lawmakers are already picking sides ahead of Gov. J.B. Pritzker's budget address Wednesday where it is expected he will outline a budget proposal that includes no new income taxes and an education funding plan reliant on federal dollars.

Some suburban Democrats are distancing themselves from Pritzker's education funding proposal, while suburban Republicans are already knocking the governor for a budget plan they say is out of balance.

State Rep. Fred Crespo, a Hoffman Estates Democrat and the chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said Pritzker's expected education funding plan will be a "big issue of contention" if it doesn't pay for the state's evidence-based education model. Pritzker last week said he is confident that "significant federal funding for education will provide additional support for schools while the state maintains its existing investment."

The evidence-based model of education funding approved by lawmakers in 2017 promised to inject $350 million of new money into education every year. However, that did not happen in 2020, and Pritzker's initial overview made no mention of the $350 million this year.

"(Pritzker is) feeling federal dollars can be used to offset $350 million, but it doesn't work that way," Crespo said.

State Rep. Terra Costa-Howard, a Glen Ellyn Democrat and a member of the House K-12 appropriations committee, said the state's education system cannot afford to miss the $350 million payment again.

"We as a state have an obligation to fund our public education system to the level that it needs to be so that all of our students, regardless of the districts they live in, have access to the educational opportunities that they need to get ahead in life," Costa-Howard said.

House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs blasted Pritzker's budget plan Monday as "wishful thinking" and not "reality."

Among the few details in the budget preview is a pledge to not raise income taxes and to make $700 million in cuts. Pritzker projects a $3 billion deficit, down from $5.5 billion.

The budget address at noon Wednesday is a starting point toward legislative approval of a budget due by May 31.

In November, Pritzker said there would be "painful" cuts after voters rejected a graduated income tax. Pritzker and Durkin have spent the time since November trading barbs about how the other has yet to come forward with proposed cutbacks.

"Until the governor can provide us with a list of his agency cuts, we are not in a position to make recommendations," Durkin said Monday.

Crespo said it is typical for Republicans to balk when asked to recommend cuts.

"We always ask them 'show us. What are the cuts you want to make that will make a big difference?'" Crespo said. "Not these paltry little cuts here and there, which we can talk about, but where are the significant cuts? And very seldom do we get anything."

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