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Illinois lawmakers at odds over surprise $1.5 billion surplus


Illinois collected $1.5 billion more than expected last month, a windfall that could wipe out most the state’s budget shortfall and help avoid a proposed pension holiday, but lawmakers disagree on what to do with the surplus.

Illinois House Republicans want Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Democrats to end calls for increasing taxes now or in the future. The state’s comptroller urged caution.

State government collected 38 percent more from taxpayers in April than it did a year ago, House Majority Leader Greg Harris wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

The revenue is $1.5 billion more than projected for the month, Harris said. That boost will help address most of the budget shortfall and Harris said the governor wants to use the surplus to pay pensions at statutorily required levels instead of moving ahead with a proposed pension holiday that was widely criticized.

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said the unexpected revenue means there’s no need for more taxes.

“There’s no need to talk about raising taxes on bags, cigarettes, businesses or the middle class,” Durkin said. “And there’s certainly no reason to be even considering a graduated tax now.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker had proposed over $1 billion in new revenue in his budget address, which included a statewide plastic bag tax, taxing insurance plans, increasing tobacco taxes, increasing e-cigarette taxes, increasing video gaming taxes, and more, including increased revenue from licensing for sports betting and recreational cannabis.

The governor had also proposed lowering how much the state would pay into its underfunded pension systems as a way to shore up the budget while working to change the state’s flat income tax to a structure that has higher rates for higher earners. Pritzker’s administration estimated the governor’s graduated tax plan would bring in $3.4 billion while lowering income tax rates for most taxpayers.

Comptroller Susana Mendoza said April’s unexpected revenue doesn’t solve the state’s financial problems.

“We still owe $6.5 billion to businesses across the state of Illinois,” Mendoza said. “That bill backlog is not being accounted for in the budgets that are being considered.”

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