SPRINGFIELD — Illinois House Republicans repeated their position that the state can balance its budget next year without the tax increases sought by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.
At the same time, the Republicans said they are open to ideas like placing an assessment on the health insurance industry and legalizing sports betting as a way to generate revenue that will reduce the need for budget cuts.
"We have the money to balance the budget with no new taxes or tax increases," said House Republican Leader Jim Durkin of Western Springs.
The reason is that tax collections in April came in much higher than was predicted by either Pritzker's budget office or the legislature's forecasters. The state collected $1.5 billion more in income taxes than expected and financial forecasters said the state will continue to do better than expected in the 2020 fiscal year that starts July 1.
"These additional tax revenues have been verified by the governor's budget office, the Department of Revenue and the (legislature's) Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability," Durkin said. "These numbers don't come out of a Republican think tank."
Pritzker wants to use this year's windfall to help close a deficit in the current year's budget. He wants to use the additional money expected next year to pay down the state's pension debt which will allow the governor to postpone his idea of stretching out the pension payment plan by seven years. The move would have freed up money to spend on other programs but shortchanged the pensions by billions of dollars.
In a response, Pritzker spokeswoman Jordan Abudayyeh said the governor is using the windfall prudently in closing the deficit in this year's budget and applying money next year to the pensions.
"One good month does not mean that Illinois can walk away from our financial obligations or start spending money twice," she said. "That's the shortsighted thinking that got us here in the first place."
Moreover, she said, the state owes more than $134 billion in pension debt and is still staring at billions in an overdue backlog of bills.
The Republicans also have a beef with House Democrats who have prepared draft budget proposals that cut 6 percent to 10 percent in state agencies. The cuts were required because Democratic negotiators used conservative revenue estimates and also took money off the top for bond payments, employee health insurance and pensions.
Rep. Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, said the revenue windfall makes those kinds of cut unnecessary. In addition, he said Republicans are willing to consider ideas that could produce an additional $2.6 billion in revenue for the state, from things like sports betting, the health insurance assessment and a delinquent tax amnesty. The Republicans remain adamantly opposed to the idea of a graduated state income tax that Pritzker wants.
"House Republicans have identified methods of being able to support critical spending and critical state services without tax increases," he said. "The prospect of significant budget cuts, draconian cuts, of slashing services has been used to advance a political agenda of supporting a graduated income tax increase."
The Republicans said they'd like to work this out with Pritzker and Democratic leaders, but they said the governor and leaders have met only twice this year.
Abudayyeh said Pritzker has had regular discussions with leaders of both parties in a variety of settings.
"He's always willing to sit down with leaders, in any format they prefer, to work together on issues that improve our finances," she said. "The leaders know the best way to request a meeting is to call the governor and ask."
Abudayyeh said Pritzker has had nearly two dozen individual meetings with leaders not counting eight cocktail parties he's hosted at the Governor's Mansion.
House Majority Leader Greg Harris of Chicago said the House Democrats were merely being cautious in crafting a spending plan.
"I think it's really important to have waited this long to make sure we have the numbers right," he said. "The one thing we don't want to do as we move forward in closing out FY 19 and moving into FY 20 is use one-time revenues as a basis for ongoing budgeting."
He said a number of budget challenges remain such as fully funding the school aid formula, providing adequate funding for colleges and universities, helping human services agencies cope with the higher minimum wage and providing more money for the troubled Department of Children and Family Services.