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Governor Pritzker’s budget does little to improve the lives of Illinoisans

As the Legislature finalizes Governor J.B. Pritzker’s 2025 budget, lawmakers’ cheers and backsliding ring hollow in many forgotten communities across Illinois.

The $53.1 billion budget does little to stem population loss, improve educational outcomes for struggling students, protect people in their communities, or help businesses hit the ground running.

It is insulting that lawmakers passed a 5% pay increase for themselves and many of the state’s top officials. Despite being part-time, Illinois lawmakers will now earn a base salary of $93,712 per year. Illinois lawmakers are among the highest paid in the country. In Indiana, lawmakers earn a base salary of $29,749, plus $196 per day for session days. In Missouri, state lawmakers receive an annual salary of $36,813, plus $121 per day for session days.

The budget provides no relief for high gas prices caused by the state’s 85 cents per gallon tax. The abolition of the 1% tax on groceries will not take place until January 2026. The citizens of Illinois need help now.

I am a business owner and raises are given to reward employee performance. The back-to-back pay increases that lawmakers voted for themselves are a slap in the face to hard-working Illinoisans. Budgets are about priorities, and it is clear that this state budget prioritizes migrants over citizens and politicians over working families.

The budget includes $182 million to support migrant care in Chicago. Pritzker has already spent or obligated $638 million, according to WTTW-Ch. 11. We have citizens sleeping under overpasses, while migrants sleep in hotels and shelters set up for them. Mayor Brandon Johnson, Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle and Pritzker’s shelter policies welcomed asylum seekers. Shelter 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. Citing the report, WBEZ-FM 91.5 noted that 17.5% of Black youth ages 16 to 19 were not in school and working in 2022, up from 9.4% in 2021. “More than 45,000 youth and teens were out of school and unemployed,” WBEZ reported.

Education has been described as the great equalizer and the ladder to success; However, lawmakers set the minimum level of funding for primary and secondary 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 in place to ensure students can read and write. Essentially, school administrators, teacher unions, and legislators have harmed students through social promotion and low expectations.

The Metro East Sun reported that during the 2021-2022 school year, 96% of the East St. Louis School District’s 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 that did not meet academic standards in math in 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 highest office in the land when President Joe Biden steps down. How can Pritzker be president if he can’t ensure that thousands of students graduating from Illinois schools can read, write and do basic math? Also missing from the budget are school choice for parents and the highly 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 can do mathematics.

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

The U.S. Census Bureau noted late last year that Illinois was one of eight states to see its population decline in 2023. Interestingly, the states around us are growing. “Illinois lost 32,826 residents in 2023, while Missouri gained 18,988 residents, Iowa gained 7,311 residents and Indiana gained 29,925 residents,” according to Springfield’s WICS-Ch. 20 reported.

Below are some suggestions for Illinois leaders to consider:

  1. Pritzker should remove pay increases for lawmakers from the budget. Wage increases must be done through a referendum question.
  2. Pritzker and Johnson should tie teacher union and school administrator contracts to student achievement and literacy goals.
  3. Civil rights groups and religious leaders must 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 hold a referendum on the sanctuary status vote.
  6. Pritzker and Illinois leaders must address the crisis of youth and young adult unemployment. Perhaps consider expanding trade school options and using unions to offer apprenticeships.

Unfortunately, the budget relies on tax hikes by sports betting companies and raising millions by expanding a cap on the deduction companies can take for net operating losses. Whenever taxes are increased, consumers are invariably hurt. This is not a budget that prepares for the future or meets the immediate needs of Illinoisans.

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

Willie Wilson is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and former mayoral candidate.

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