Illinois Legislative Black Caucus members expressed considerable support for Gov. JB Pritzker’s proposed budget Wednesday following Pritzker’s annual budget address.
“It’s clear that we need a budget that addresses the lack of access to health care, affordable housing, economic development, and high-quality education in Black communities,” said Joint Black Caucus Chair Sonya M. Harper (D-Chicago). “One of our top priorities in this budget-making process is to ensure our most vulnerable communities and services are protected.”
The Black caucus also outlined their legislative priorities for 2022 during their “State of Black Illinois Address.”
Among the group address, some members praised Pritzker for his commitment to what he called the ‘Illinois Family Relief Plan’ which provides tax and fee relief for working families, increases public safety efforts, and provides additional funding for Illinois schools, hospitals, and human services.
In this year’s speech, Pritzker noted that Illinois is in the best fiscal shape in the state’s history.
“Responsible fiscal management is yielding substantial savings, unburdening our state from the anchor that has weighed us down for far too long,” said Illinois Governor JB Pritzker. “Short-term debts are nearly gone and our most critical long-term financial liabilities are in the best fiscal shape they have been in since the turn of the century.”
In their budget response, the caucus’ leadership emphasized the need to work with the Governor’s Administration to address racial inequities. The caucus strives to set goals that combat the lack of access to quality healthcare, affordable housing, economic development, and quality education in black communities.
“Today, the Governor outlined a budget proposal that demonstrates that Illinois is on the strongest financial footing in decades,” said Harper. “But for too long, Black communities in this state have faced racial inequities and it’s time the state of Illinois provided equal opportunities for black people to succeed.”
“The governor’s proposal reflects a more optimistic outlook than where we were a year ago looking at the FY 22 budget,” said Senate Black Caucus Chairman Robert Peters (D-Chicago). “The budget proposal certainly takes into account the improved circumstances of our state’s economic and fiscal situations, and it’s a good place to begin the process of drafting our first budget after that puts us on the road to economic recovery from the pandemic. This is going to show taxpayers that we are good fiscal stewards, that we’re not only taking care of their money they entrust us with, but also that we are making real investments in uplifting all of our communities across the state for the many and not the few.”
In years past, higher education had become an afterthought in our state budgets. This year, the governor proposed an increase to MAP scholarships by $200 million.
“As vice chair of the House Higher Education Appropriations committee, it is at the heart of the work I do, making sure young people in the state of Illinois have the opportunity to attend college,” said State Representative Nick Smith (D-Chicago). I was glad to hear the governor is investing more money into the MAP grant program to give students more resources to attend college while also increasing the operational budget of our community colleges and higher education institutions.”
Pritzker, towards the middle of his address, made note of an ambitious plan to provide additional support to social services, public safety, and violence prevention programs in the state.
“The governor has presented a good faith budget plan that takes important steps to continue the work we have done to put Illinois on sound fiscal footing,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Elgie R. Sims (D- Chicago). “The proposal includes major investments to increase public safety and address the root causes of violence by funding the vital services necessary to prevent crime. The Governor’s budget continues these efforts by allocating resources for new state police officers, additional law enforcement training, body cameras, and community-based violence prevention programs.”
“The governor’s budget proposal focuses on the need to address public safety through the lens of violence prevention and crime reduction,” said State Representative Camille Y. Lilly (D-Chicago). “As we stand together and continue to have conversations on the budget and its proposed programs and service ideas this will ensure collective success in our communities.”
“The Reimagine Public Safety Act is a step in the right direction, but the solution to gun violence will require a multifaceted approach,” State Senator Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) said. “We need increased investment in our disenfranchised communities – financial as well as communal. We must ensure that every Illinoisan, regardless of where they live or their socioeconomic background, has the same access to safe housing, education, and career opportunities.” Further, several members of the caucus called the Governor’s proposal ‘a starting point’ and touted there is more work to be done before reaching an endpoint. Members expressed concern and called on the rest of the General Assembly to address racial wealth disparities in every sector.
“I’m proud of the quick and sweeping reforms that we have made through the Illinois legislative black caucus pillars,” said State Representative Carol Ammons (D- Urbana). “The budget that the governor presented today is the starting point and not the ending point. Our job as a legislative body is to reach across the state into black communities to make sure that we address the racial wealth disparities in every industry in every sector including in the job sector and labor sector.”
“Number one issue in my community is housing,” said State Representative Lakesia Collins (D-Chicago). “For many decades, African American communities have experienced the housing crisis first hand and we struggle every single day to keep our heads above water.”
“I am happy to see this year’s proposal prioritize reducing the violence in our communities and addressing the disparities in home appraisals that continue to contribute to the racial wealth gap,” said State Senator Jacqueline Collins (D- Chicago). “These investments are vital if we are to address the underinvestment, excessive incarceration, underrepresentation, and lack of economic mobility that have stripped people of color of the opportunity to safely and meaningfully thrive in our society.”
“When you look at our four Black caucus pillars over the last couple years, and the challenges associated with historical disinvestments, it becomes most critical to invest in public safety reforms as our communities continue to be disproportionately impacted,” said State Representative Justin Slaughter (D- Chicago). “I am committed to working with my colleagues and the governor’s administration on issues that will build stronger generations to come.”
“Systemic disinvestment has hurt economic viability in Black and brown neighborhoods, which has led to an increase in gun crimes,” said State Senator Adriane Johnson (Buffalo Grove). “The governor’s budget proposal keeps Illinois on track to maintain our commitment to protect vital human services and social safety nets while working to expand assistance programs that help working families get by.”
Building upon the success of last year’s Black Caucus Agenda, according to Harper, the Black Caucus is planning for more legislation to be passed in March and throughout the legislative year. The Caucus’ mission is to reiterate the importance of budget accountability for black communities while addressing policy goals to advance and empower black pathways.