(The Center Square) – Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Monday that his top legislative goal for the coming year is a balanced budget.
“I have one priority every session that is the No. 1 priority and that’s balancing our budget,” the governor said at the Thompson Center in Chicago. “Making sure we’re doing the right thing to put our state on firm fiscal footing to continue to get credit upgrades, as we have, and to make sure we’re providing the services that people need.”
Pritzker didn’t spell out how he and the General Assembly would reach a balanced budget. The governor’s budget remarks came during a news conference regarding the state’s response to the omicron COVID-19 variant.
Flush with federal cash, state lawmakers passed a balanced budget for fiscal 2022 that called for $44.3 billion in total operating expenditures on an estimated $42.4 billion in General Funds revenues (or $44.4 billion including federal aid), according to a Civic Federation report. Pension contributions accounted for $9.6 billion of the state’s operating expenses, or nearly a quarter of every dollar spent.
In June, both Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investor Service upgraded the state’s credit worthiness. Illinois still has the lowest credit rating of any state in the nation. A higher bond rating generally means the state can borrow money at a lower interest rate. In June, S&P Global Ratings announced a credit upgrade for Illinois’ from BBB- to BBB, a couple of notches above speculative grade.
“We could raise the rating if we believe the recent improvements in fiscal operations and overall budget management coupled with the economic recovery will continue,” the S&P report at the time noted. “Any upside to the state’s creditworthiness, however, remains somewhat constrained by the poorly funded pension systems and other outsize liabilities.”
The governor also said Monday that he doesn’t expect the recent increase in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths in Illinois to interfere with the legislature’s work. Lawmakers are expected to return to Springfield on Jan. 4, 2022.
Pritzker said he had talked with the state’s legislative leaders about COVID-19 concerns ahead of the upcoming legislative session.
“We’re all watching these numbers carefully,” he said. “As you know, we’ve had to take extra precautions for the legislature when things have gotten very bad with COVID.”
The governor said both legislative chambers now have rules that allow for remote committee meetings, “which is much of what happens in the early part of a legislative session, so I imagine they’ll be using that.”