Republicans accuse JB Pritzker of holding back education funding to force graduated income tax

CHICAGO (WLS) -- The name-calling and finger-pointing has already started over Governor JB Pritzker's proposed budget, which he unveiled in Springfield Wednesday.

Republicans are accusing the governor of trying to strong-arm voters to support his graduated income tax by withholding 42 percent of the funding for schools in what he's calling a "reserve fund." The accusations set the stage for a contentious budget battle in the weeks and months ahead.

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School funding in Illinois turned the page in 2017, when lawmakers passed a new bipartisan funding model aimed at helping poorer districts. It calls for $350 million in new funds for education.

But in the budget Pritzker proposed, only $200 million more is spent on education. The other $150 million would only be available if voters approve his graduated income tax plan in November.

"This bullying tactic to hold funding to our schools hostage and our students, in order to get his way, is not only irresponsible, but presents a false choice,' said State Rep. Avery Bourne (R-Litchfield).

Pritzker said he remains committed to fully funding education at $350 million.

"I am committed and that's why I'm advocating for the fair tax," he said.

But pressed on whether he's not funding it without the fair tax, Pritzker said, "Well, but I'm also the responsible governor of the state. I'm being responsible on behalf of the citizens of the state to make sure that in any event, either way, that we are paying the bills of the state."

Republicans, who strongly oppose the graduated income tax referendum, argue there is an extra $1 billion in revenue from business and other taxes due to the economy, and that money makes funding schools possible without the graduated income tax.

"He would rather hold back money to our schools to further his political agenda than to prioritize a stable, responsible budget that fully funds our schools and lives within our means," said Rep. Bourne.

The governor contends the state has other significant obligations to meet besides education.

"Yes, it's true we won't be able to get to the $350 million, but $200 million increase in education funding, K through 12, is as much as we could do," he said.

All told, the governor's budget is holding $1.4 billion back in reserves, pending approval of his graduated income tax. But as one Democrat said, this budget proposal is the first pitch in the first inning of a nine inning game. The legislative process is just getting started.
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