Home World Gov. Pritzker’s budget does little to better lives of Illinoisans

Gov. Pritzker’s budget does little to better lives of Illinoisans

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As the legislature finalizes Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s 2025 budget, the jubilation and backslapping of lawmakers ring hollow in many forgotten communities throughout Illinois.

The $53.1 billion budget does little to stem population loss, improve education outcomes for struggling students, protect people in their communities and help jump-start businesses.

It is insulting that legislators included a 5% pay increase for themselves and many of the top state officials. Despite it being part-time work, Illinois lawmakers will now make a base salary of $93,712 annually. Illinois legislators are some of the highest paid in the country.  In Indiana, legislators make a base salary of $29,749, plus $196 per diem for session days. In Missouri, state lawmakers receive an annual salary of $36,813, plus a $121 per diem for session days.

The budget provides no relief for high gas prices fueled by the 85 cents a gallon state tax. The elimination of the 1% tax on groceries does not occur until January 2026. Illinois citizens need relief now.

I’m a business owner, and pay raises are given to reward employee performance. The consecutive pay raises voted on by lawmakers for themselves are a smack in the face to hardworking Illinois residents. Budgets are about priorities, and clearly, this state budget prioritizes migrants over citizens and politicians over working-class families.   

The budget includes $182 million to support migrants’ care in Chicago. Pritzker has already spent or obligated $638 million, according to WTTW-Ch. 11. We have citizens sleeping under viaducts, while migrants sleep in hotels and shelters established for them. The sanctuary policies of Mayor Brandon Johnson, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Pritzker welcomed asylum-seekers. The sanctuary policies have prioritized migrants at the expense of our own citizens.

There is an unemployment crisis among Black and brown youth ages 16 to 24 in Chicago and Cook County, according to the latest data from the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Great Cities Institute. Quoting the report, WBEZ-FM 91.5 noted that 17.5% of Black youth ages 16 to 19 were out of school and not working in 2022, up from 9.4% in 2021. “More than 45,000 young people and teens were both out of school and jobless,” WBEZ reported.   

Education is described as the great equalizer and the ladder to success; however, legislators provided the minimum funding level for K-12 education. Accountability measures for literacy are missing from the budget.  In Chicago, East St. Louis and other struggling school districts, there are no real accountability measures to ensure students are literate. Essentially, school administrators, teachers unions and lawmakers have harmed students through social promotion and low expectations. 

The Metro East Sun reported that during “the 2021-22 school year 96% of the East St. Louis School District 189 students failed the Math portion of the Illinois Assessment of Readiness test, according to the Illinois State Board of Education report.”  The list of school districts and students who didn’t meet academic standards in math during 2021-22 is unacceptably long. It includes school districts in Peoria, Rockford, Dolton, Joliet, Harvey, Danville, Decatur, Aurora, Kankakee and Chicago.

There is a rumor that Pritzker will run for the nation’s highest office if President Joe Biden steps aside. How can Pritzker be president if he can’t ensure thousands of students graduating from Illinois schools can read, write and do basic math? Also, missing from the budget is school choice for parents and the very successful Invest in Kids scholarship program. Pritzker, Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch and Senate President Don Harmon should agree: The days of graduating students who cannot read, write or perform basic math must come to an end.

Undoubtedly, unemployment, hopelessness and a lack of opportunities for youths in trade schools could be fueling the unprecedented numbers of armed robberies and carjackings in Chicago and Cook County.  According to the latest Chicago Police Department data, robberies are up 2% compared with the same time last year and 37% from 2021. While the number of homicides are down, people still feel unsafe.  

The U.S. Census Bureau noted at the end of last year that Illinois was one of eight states that saw population declines during 2023. Interestingly, states around us are gaining population. “Illinois lost 32,826 residents in 2023, whereas Missouri gained 18,988 residents, Iowa gained 7,311 residents, and Indiana gained 29,925 residents,” Springfield’s WICS-Ch. 20 reported.

The following are a few suggestions for Illinois leaders to consider:

  1. Pritzker should strike pay raises for legislators from the budget.  Pay raises should be done by referendum question. 
  2. Pritzker and Johnson should bind teachers union and school administrator contracts to the performance of students and literacy goals.
  3. Civil rights groups and faith leaders should take a stand against social promotion. Faith leaders should consider adopting a school district.
  4. Pritzker should implement a literacy plan for failing school districts with goals and accountability.
  5. Pritzker, Johnson and Preckwinkle should put a referendum on the ballot regarding sanctuary status. 
  6. Pritzker and Illinois leaders should address the crisis of youth and young adult unemployment. Perhaps consider expanding trade school opportunities and engage unions to provide apprenticeships. 

Unfortunately, the budget relies on tax increases from sports betting companies and raising millions by extending a cap on deductions corporations can take for net operating losses. Whenever taxes are raised, consumers invariably get hurt. This is not a budget that prepares for the future or meets the immediate needs of Illinois residents.

I write this commentary to make those comfortable leaving Illinoisans behind uncomfortable.

Willie Wilson is a business owner, philanthropist and former mayoral candidate.

Submit a letter, of no more than 400 words, to the editor here or email [email protected].



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