Illinois lawmakers approved a $40.62 billion operating budget over the weekend that eclipsed the budget Governor JB Pritzker asked for in his January budget address by $800 million, and increases state spending by $2 billion over the current year. State Representative Grant Wehrli (R-Naperville) voted against the budget, pointing to a process that was flawed, excluded almost all Republicans, and didn’t do enough to pay down debt.
“While we were on the floor debating what many consider to be one of the most important policy discussions in decades- the legalization of recreational marijuana, Democrats dropped a 1,508-page budget that none of us on our side of the aisle had time to read,” said Wehrli. “The bill was sent that same day to the House Executive Committee where we did our best to work through the document and ask appropriate questions. It’s an incredibly flawed process used year after year by the majority party to keep us in the dark so we don’t know what poison pills are hidden in the document.”
During the committee hearing, Wehrli called the budgeting process “clear as mud,” as he questioned the bill sponsor. “People don’t trust state government because they can’t follow state government. We play games. It’s baked into the system. It’s highly unethical, borderline probably illegal, and yet here we are, we do it year after year to the tune of millions of dollars. The system is fundamentally corrupt. It does not follow a process that is logical to anyone.”
One such example is a lawmaker cost of living increase of about $1,600 that was hidden in the budget documents and not addressed prior to the vote. While it’s the first pay increase for legislators since 2008, members of the General Assembly typically reject COLAs. “Members of the House Republican Caucus are all co-sponsors of HB 2965, which prohibits lawmakers from accepting COLAs or increased reimbursement for mileage lodging and meals for next year, but that bill wasn’t called,” added Wehrli. “Instead, majority party lawmakers hid their raise within the pages of their 1,508-page budget. I call on Governor Pritzker to issue a line item veto of the budget so this item can be removed.”
In addition to the budget, lawmakers also approved a $45 billion capital bill to fund road, bridge and public building maintenance and improvement projects across the state.