(The Center Square) – With limited Illinois tax dollars, state officials are laying out their priorities amid ongoing budget pressures such as the hundreds of millions of dollars for migrant care.
Promoting the taxpayer-funded $250 million Smart Start early childhood education initiative, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the state will have to balance such future spending with other pressures.
“And, if we don’t have enough resources for everything that everybody wants, what can we look to do in the future or what should we stop doing in order to make sure that we’re balancing expenditures with revenues,” Pritzker said at an event in Rochester Thursday.
In the first year of the program, Pritzker said his administration surpassed its goal by opening up more than 5,000 child day care seats. He also said his administration is reviewing how it can possibly expand the program further.
“To be clear, we still have some distance to go to make sure that we’re covering every single 3- and 4-year old in this state by 2027,” Pritzker said. “That is the goal.”
State Rep. Mike Coffey, R-Sringfield, was in attendance at the Rochester event. Afterward, he told The Center Square that early childhood education is a shared priority, but adding to the spending pressures is the taxpayer resources being spent on migrant care, including the taxpayer subsidies to cover non-citizens’ health care in the state.
“How do you look at the citizens of Illinois, the single moms that go to work every single day and have to pay for their health insurance and then you are told that people from other countries are just coming in and they’re getting free health care,” Coffey said. “That’s got to stop so that we can fund the priorities for the citizens of Illinois.”
The current budget includes $550 million for the health care subsidies for non-citizens in Illinois over the age of 42, but the projected annual cost from the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services is $832.7 million. The Pritzker administration announced a freeze of new enrollees last year to help shore up those costs.
Those costs are on top of around half-a-billion dollars in housing, food and other costs the state’s taxpayers have already incurred.
Coffey said it becomes more difficult to balance programs like the Smart Start early childhood program with the ongoing hundreds of millions of dollars being spent for migrant care.
“As we go forward into the General Assembly and money becomes tighter and tighter and tighter after we’ve gone through COVID and all that, what are we going to do for these types of programs, and this migrant crisis, having gone down there, it’s a national crisis that has to be addressed by the president of the United States,” Coffey said.
Illinois legislators return to Springfield Feb. 6. Pritzker delivers his State of the State and budget address Feb. 21.