Illinois lawmakers pass $40B budget, Chicago casino measure

Chicago News

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Illinois lawmakers approved an approximately $40 billion state budget early Sunday that largely maintains spending, along with a plan to push forward a Chicago casino, during an extraordinary special session held amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The budget, which largely relies on federal funding, mostly maintains funding from the current budget, which the exception of health care agencies affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.

The House vote was 68-44 and was largely along party lines. Senate Republicans also voted against the plan, objecting to a small spending spike during a time of uncertainty. The Senate vote was 37-19.

Extraordinary safety measures were taken during session, with the House moved from a Capitol chamber to a convention center blocks away to ensure enough space between lawmakers. Masks and temperature checks were required.

The pandemic that prompted Gov. J.B. Pritzker to issue a statewide stay-at-home order left businesses across the state closed. Between that and the 1 million Illinois residents out of work by the pandemic, lawmakers say the state will have under $37 billion in revenue. As a result, lawmakers looked to Washington to fill the hole in the budget.

The new spending plans included up to $5 billion in loans from a Federal Reserve program designed to help during the pandemic.

“This budget begins to address the financial upheaval we are facing, but more hard choices about how to spend and save these dollars wisely remain to be made,” Pritzker, a Democrat, said in a statement. He said the plan “recognizes that massive economic disruption leads to difficult decisions.”

Top Republicans said the efforts fell short.

Illinois House Republican Leader Jim Durkin said lawmakers didn’t make any efforts to reform ethics, pensions or property taxes. He called the special session and spending plan “the same old song and dance, the same movie you’ve watched 20 times before.”

School districts and higher education will receive roughly the same amount of funding as 2020. The budget also has $20 million in public health grants to help hospitals impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Legislators also approved a plan pushed by Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot to change the tax structure for a casino in the city. The Chicago casino was included in last year’s gambling expansion authorizing six new casinos, part of a critical funding source for the state’s $45 billion capital plan.

However, an experts’ study found the tax structure would make it difficult for the Chicago casino to be profitable. Along with altering the tax structure, the new plan delays the deadline for casino applicants to pay license fees.

“The idea is to make this work for Chicago, so that we could fund a vertical capital (bill), put people to work,” said Blue Island Democratic Rep. Bob Rita, who sponsored the measure. “Not only for Chicago but for everywhere in the entire state of Illinois. This is good for everyone for jobs and development — having a Chicago casino be real.”

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