Pritzker proposes $440 million for young child initiatives

Pritzker proposes $440 million for young child initiatives

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker wants to spend $440 million for universal preschool and other initiatives for low-income young children. But shouldn’t Illinois pay its old bills before taking on new expenses?

Gov. J.B. Pritzker is proposing more preschool, more child care and other initiatives for low-income children with a $440 million price tag.

The “Smart Start Illinois” plan would initially invest $75 million for 5,000 kids and grow to 20,000 in later years. Illinois currently spends $600 million on pre-kindergarten serving 89,000 children.

A report from the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget shows a $357 million surplus – this year. Federal aid has been a life preserver for Illinois’ economy, but funds from the American Rescue Plan Act will run out in 2024 and Illinois will again be spending more than it takes in – a decades-old habit.

Taking on a significant, ongoing expenditure during a brief window of excess cash is reckless. If Pritzker sticks to his word and expands the initiative to every 3 and 4-year-old in Illinois, the costs will be significant.

Lawmakers should use the surplus to pay down the state’s debt, especially with a possible economic downturn coming. In a survey of chief economists at the World Economic Forum, 63% said a global recession is likely in 2023.

Illinois Forward 2024 is a budget plan from the Illinois Policy Institute that lays out a more responsible budget for Illinois. It could save billions in taxpayer dollars by 2028.

It does so by right-sizing government employee health care costs, reducing administrative costs at Illinois’ more than 850 school districts and enacting a spending cap linking growth in expenditures to the growth rate of the economy. Following those steps, the state could eliminate the persistent structural deficit and end future fiscal years with a budget surplus in excess of $600 million and eventually approaching $1 billion annually by 2028.

State lawmakers should use surplus funds to:

  • Restore Illinois’ Unemployment Trust Fund – lawmakers have already paid off the $1.36 billion deficit but still need to contribute an additional $450 million to replenish the fund.
  • Pay off 2010 Railsplitter Tobacco Settlement Authority Bonds, which the state still owes more than $561 million on.
  • Eliminate the anticipated $1.2 billion bill backlog.
  • Deposit the remaining $347 million into the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund, also known as its rainy-day fund.

Ultimately, Illinois needs to reform its public pension systems to stop them from eating state revenues at the expense of programs taxpayers expect and the state’s most vulnerable rely on. That will take an amendment to the Illinois Constitution so the growth rate of future benefits can be brought under control.

Do that, and the state can stop constantly going to taxpayers for more and can begin addressing investments in its future.

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