SPRINGFIELD, Ill (NEXSTAR) — Most of Governor Pritzker’s messaging on the campaign trail has been about his record — especially around the state budget. When he took over in 2019, the state was in a crisis.
The two-year budget impasse left the state with a gigantic bill backlog, a lowest in the nation credit rating, and left state agencies in shambles.
“Bruce Rauner left us in a huge hole. And we’ve really built it back up,” Pritzker said. “And I’m very pleased about where we are.”
During Pritzker’s first term, the state received six credit upgrades, and the bill backlog is non-existent. He points to this pair of facts in order to prove financial success during his first term.
But even with the improved financial footing of the state, 52 percent of people still say the state is on the wrong track, according to our Nexstar/Emerson College/ The Hill poll.
Governor Pritzker did not mind that number, though. He said he wants it to be higher, but considering where the state was when he started, it’s good progress.
“Before I came into office, that the you know, the right track wrong track numbers for the Illinois for when people would pull Illinoisians was 9% thought the state was on the right track, at the end of Governor Rauner’s term,” Pritzker said. “You just saw the latest poll that showed that 48% of people now think the state is on the right track. It takes years to improve the you know, the reputation of an agency or of an entire state, we have more work to do there, too.”
Pritzker said in a one-on-one interview with for Capitol Connection that if his republican opponent Darren Bailey is elected, that progress would be lost, and it would be like a return to the Rauner years.
“That will lead to Bruce Rauner budgeting where we got no budget,” Pritzker said. “We might go for years without a budget under Darren Bailey.”
Bailey disagrees, saying the rosy picture the governor paints of the state is far from accurate.
“Is Illinois in better shape?” Bailey said in an interview Monday. “No one can say with a straight face that it is.”
Bailey relies on his idea for a zero-based budget when talking about state finances. His plan would have each state agency start at zero dollars, and prove the need for every dollar they are budgeted. Bailey claims there is 10 to 15 billion dollars in waste in the state budget.
“Ten to 15 billion dollars of unaccounted for spending? Yes.” Bailey said. “Again, when J.B. Pritzker took office, we had a $34 billion budget. Today we have a $46 billion budget.”
Experts from the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability say cuts of that magnitude are impossible. On the surface, Bailey’s 10 to 15 billion dollar figure amounts to a third of the state budget, but Ralph Martire, Executive Director of the CTBA says it amounts to an even bigger slice. In every state budget, there are billions of dollars that the state is legally obligated to pay. According to Martire, those costs amount to just over 18 billion dollars.
So instead of Bailey looking at cutting a third of the state’s budget, it would really end up being about 46 percent of the state’s spending plan.
Despite this, Bailey stood by his ideas, saying his cuts are what the state needs to have tax relief down the road, pointing to the broad increases in state spending without giving specifics on cuts he would make.
“We need to shrink government,” Bailey said. “We need to start with a zero-based budget will show us exactly where our money is going.”
Pritzker says the state is already on that path. The budget this year included temporary and one-time tax relief for Illinois residents, but he says the state can start discussing permanent relief in the near future.
“I’m very pleased about where we are,” Pritzker said. “But now we’re in a position where we can really think about tax cuts in the future.”
The CTBA also disagrees with that sentiment, saying the state isn’t even close to being able to offer permanent tax relief.
“Let me think about it. No, now that they want me think about it some more… No,” Martire said. “There could be some tax relief. But the bottom line is, we still have that structural imbalance. So our revenue growth doesn’t keep up with our cost growth, just adjusting for inflation.”
On the campaign trail, Bailey has tried to distance himself from some of the hyper-conservative stances that won him the primary — including his support of former President Donald Trump. In June, Bailey got the endorsement of Donald Trump, and appeared on stage with him at a rally in Quincy.
At that rally, Bailey said he would “roll out the red carpet for Trump in 2024.” But in recent weeks, he has dodged the topic of Trump, using the fact that the former president has not said he is running again.
Today, when asked if he still plans to roll out the red carpet, he said “I am a man of my word.”
“We’ll see if he decides to run. I am a man of my word,” Bailey said. “So he’s not announced for presidency to my knowledge, and we’ll see what happens when that time comes.”
Pritzker has long used Bailey’s support of Trump and vice versa as a way to attack Bailey, saying the Republican is too extreme for Illinois.