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Pritzker touts early education funding in signing $50.4 billion budget

Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the state’s $50.4 billion budget Wednesday at Christopher House, an early education center in Chicago's Belmont-Cragin neighborhood.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker has traveled the state this week to tout the budget’s funding of his Smart Start initiative, a focal point of his 2024 budget aimed at improving access to preschool, increasing funding for child care providers and investing in early childhood facilities.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker on Wednesday signed his fifth budget — a $50.4 billion spending plan that Democrats called “balanced in every sense” which included a line-item correction lowering proposed pay raises to the tune of more than $192,000.

Pritzker signed the measure at the Christopher House, an early education center in the Belmont-Cragin neighborhood, flanked by Democrats, including Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Illinois Senate President Don Harmon, D-Oak Park.

The governor has traveled the state this week — from Freeport to Moline to Peoria and Quincy — to tout the budget’s funding of his Smart Start initiative, a focal point of his 2024 budget aimed at improving access to preschool, increasing funding for child care providers and investing in early childhood facilities. The budget includes $250 million for the first year of the multiyear plan.

Pritzker said the budget — which passed both chambers with no Republican support — is proof that he kept his 2018 campaign promise to restore fiscal responsibility to the state after years of mismanagement.

“Here we are four years later, and just look at what at we’ve accomplished. We eliminated overdue bills, paid down $10.5 billion in debt, including pension debt. Our once-empty Rainy Day Fund has now surpassing $2 billion. Our GDP has surpassed $1 trillion, and we have more jobs available than ever before. And independently, and if you don’t love all of that,” Pritzker said to applause, “independently, each of the major credit rating agencies has given us multiple credit upgrades.”

The governor’s office said line-item reductions of $192,700 were made after a review found that cost-of-living pay raises granted in the budget to constitutional officers, legislators and appointed officers of the executive branch exceeded 5%, which they said was unconstitutional.

The budget would have increased legislator pay for the fiscal year that begins July 1 to nearly $90,000. Earlier this year, legislators approved a salary bump from $72,906 to $85,000 in a supplemental appropriations bill.

“These line-item reductions will ensure the FY24 budget complies with current state law that prevents raises of more than 5%,” a governor’s office spokesman said in an email.

The budget passage came a week after a self-declared deadline made by Democratic lawmakers, in part, because of behind-the-scenes negotiations about funding health care for undocumented people, which ultimately received $550 million as part of a larger Medicaid appropriation through the Illinois Department of Human Services. Another $45 million went to help the city of Chicago continue to fund the city’s migrant crisis.

It also includes $350 million for the state’s K-12 evidence-based school funding formula, $100 million in additional MAP grant funding for higher education and a $100 million increase for public universities.

Welch said the budget shows Illinois can be both a responsible and compassionate state.

“This budget, we have proven yet again that we can do both,” Welch said. “We can be fiscally responsible and compassionate.”

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