Pritzker Blames GOP, Rich for Tax Amendment Loss

In his daily COVID-19 briefing Wednesday, Governor JB Pritzker unloaded on Republicans as well as “millionaires and billionaires” he said defeated his graduated income tax constitutional amendment with tactics he called lies that “deceived the public.”  

Pritzker began his opening comments Wednesday with a long statement about the failure of the tax amendment:

For decades before I became Governor, Illinois’ expenditures never matched its revenues. One of the reasons that I ran for office was to finally tackle our fiscal problems in a responsible way while investing in what makes this state a great place to live. Improving our schools, expanding affordable health care, creating a durable social safety net, and making our state run more efficiently, all while living responsibly within our fiscal means. Today, this problem has reached a peak as we in Illinois are racking up more bills than we have in revenues.” It’s unsustainable. My predecessor, Governor Rauner, tried to drag the state underwater with painful and draconian cuts that, in the end, were blocked by both Republicans and Democrats. His approach devastated higher education, child care, human services, and hollowed out state agencies like those that manage public health and unemployment benefits, all while adding billions of dollars of debt onto our bill backlog. Two years without a state budget. Longer than any other state in United states history nearly destroyed the lives of the most vulnerable children and families in Illinois. And it left all of us with an untenable situation. The state’s inability to fund education also drove up property taxes that are, frankly, already too high. Illinois has had the lowest percentage of state funding for education in the nation, increasing the gaps between the schools in low-wealth, high poverty areas and those with abundant resources. And local school districts raised property taxes to make up for the state’s failures. When I came into the governorship, I found a backlog of almost $8 billion of unpaid bills. And working with the Comptroller, we brought that down by a billion dollars in just 12 months. The state had been paying late payment penalties that reached $950 million per year when I became Governor. We reduced the late payment penalties by about $850 million per year. The point is, we’ve been reducing waste and inefficiency from day one because of the problem of the state’s finances and the fact that those need to be addressed from every angle.

 Pritzker did not put any blame on legislative leaders who have approved out-of-balance budgets in recent years. Democrats have controlled the House all but 2 years since 1983 and have controlled the Senate since 2002.

That didn’t stop Pritzker from blaming Republicans for the mess.

“If you think cutting government alone is the solution, remember this: if you set aside federally protected programs, court ordered obligations, and our bond and pension debt, we would have to reduce discretionary spending in our state by approximately 15%,” Pritzker said. “[You] could call this “the Republican approach.”

State Senator Jason Plummer (R-Edwardsville) tweeted a response to Pritzker’s comments Wednesday, calling the amendment his “sneaky attempt to raise taxes across the board.”

“Illinoisans - GOP & Dem - across Illinois stood up and showed they're sick and tired of being lied to & treated as an ATM by people like you,” Plummer wrote.

Pritzker said groups opposing the referendum left “working people of Illinois holding the bag.”

Millionaires and billionaires opposed it to protect their own wallets, deceiving the public about it’s purpose,” Pritzker said. “It’s no surprise these are the same people who pushed for Bruce Rauner’s agenda and will resurrect his failed crusade any way they can. Republicans swore their allegiance to the wealthiest interests in the state and they threw middle class families under the bus.”

In a statement, Mark Denzler, the President & CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, one of the groups who opposed the measure, said the results were a rejection of higher taxes and more spending.

“By rejecting this amendment, voters sent a clear message that it is time for Illinois policy makers to stop raising taxes on families and businesses and start getting serious about policy reforms that will help spur long term economic growth, especially given the incredible damage caused by the pandemic,” said Denzler. “Now is not the time to revert to the same tax and spend approach that has fueled our state’s underlying financial problems. We must work to pass substantive changes that make it easier to grow jobs, attract investment and get Illinois back on track.”

Pritzker also promised “structural solutions” Wednesday.

“Our state finances still require fundamental structural change,” he said. “I promised to be a governor who balances the budget and pays the bills that my predecessor left behind. I promised to make sure that our kids get a good education, that we invest in job creation, and that we build a better future in Illinois.”

But Pritzker warned “there will be cuts and they will be painful.”

He also seemed to promise retribution for those who opposed the referendum.

“I will never forget that some of the wealthiest and most powerful interests in Illinois did everything in their power to put the burden of this on workers and their families instead of shouldering some of the burden themselves,” he said. “Now we’re going to have to suffer the pain they’ve brought on.”