Gov. Pritzker proposes legalizing marijuana, sports betting in budget address

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SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker unveiled his first annual budget proposal Wednesday amid an estimated $3.2 billion deficit.
The Democrat is planning on a $39 billion budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. He said it focuses on spending for education, health and human services, and public safety.

Democrats and Republicans both say they were stuck by the tone. The partisan nastiness is over for now. But one can’t help but wonder if the parties will soon go to war over Pritzker’s fiscal plan.

In his address, before looking ahead, Pritzker made a nod to the past, raising the epic budget impasse during the Rauner years.

“During a time of unprecedented economic growth across the country, we lost four valuable years because of an ideological battle,” he said. “That stops now.”

Pritzker is proposing new spending and revenue. He calls the spending investments.

“Education, health and human services, and public safety,” he said. “Investments in people that I believe will pay dividends down the road.”

Specifically, Pritzker is proposing $1.1 billion in new spending.

And how to pay for it? New revenue.

The governor wants to legalize and tax recreational marijuana, legalize and tax sports betting, tax insurance companies, raise money from a plastic bag tax, electronic cigarette tax and raise the cigarette tax.

These are short term solutions. Long term, to solve the state’s $134 billion pension crisis and large stack of unpaid bills, Pritzker said he’ll push hard to move Illinois from a flat income tax system to a graduated one.

“There's no hiding from it. There's no running from it. There's no lying about it,” he said. “I choose a fair tax system to get us out of this mess.”

To address pensions, Pritzker wants to extend the current buyout program, infuse the system with bonds and stretch out the payment schedule.

After the speech, Republicans spoke out.

“It was mainly an address towards his constituency,” House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said.

“This budget is a joke,” Rep. David McSweeney said. “More of the same; higher taxes, more spending. That’s the Pritzker plan. His money will stay in the Bahamas in the trusts and the people of the state will pay higher taxes.”

“The graduated income tax that he discusses I think works in other states to diminish economic opportunities,” Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady said. “We just fundamentally disagree about how you create economic opportunity.”

The governor met with the Democratic and Republican leaders Wednesday morning. Republicans said they urged Pritzker to go in a different direction.

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