Black caucus supports Pritzker’s budget plan, calls for added minority community investment
State Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, is joined by other members of Illinois Legislative Black Caucus at a press conference at the Illinois Capitol on Feb. 19, 2020. Lightford chairs the 32-member caucus comprised solely of Democrats. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Ben Orner)
Education, revenue, children among caucus’s top priorities
By BEN ORNER
Capitol News Illinois
SPRINGFIELD – Members of the 32-lawmaker Illinois Legislative Black Caucus said Gov. JB Pritzker’s budget proposal for the fiscal year starting in July is a good start but needs more money and support for people of color.
“I was so pleased to hear so many things that the governor mentioned that have been issues that the black caucus has fought for for many years,” said black caucus chair Sen. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood.
Every member of the black caucus is a Democrat, the same party of Pritzker, who delivered his second annual budget address to members of the House and Senate Wednesday at the Capitol.
Among the top issues discussed by caucus members after the address was education funding, from kindergarten through college graduation.
Pritzker’s proposed budget would increase K-12 school funding by $350 million, but $150 million of that is tied to the passage of a graduated income tax. That tax will go before voters in November in the form of a constitutional amendment that increases income taxes on people earning more than $250,000 annually.
“While his speech suggests that $350 million (would) allocate toward funding, we know the reality based on the revenue outlook,” said state Rep. Will Davis of Homewood. “Our message to the governor is this funding level must be realized.”
Davis, who sits on the House committee that deals with K-12 education spending, says the budget should include even more funding for schools.
“If we truly believe that education is the great equalizer, as we believe it to be, our overall funding as for K-12 must be no less than a half a billion dollars,” he said.
Urbana state Rep. Carol Ammons, who chairs the House higher education committee, was pleased to hear Pritzker’s proposed funding increases for early childhood education and universities.
But she said the caucus plans to work with the governor to address “structural racism” faced by black communities.
Ammons mentioned that just 19 percent of black 4th-graderes are proficient in reading, compared to 46 percent of white 4th-graders, according to last year’s National Assessment of Educational Progress.
“If our students are not able to read at the K-12 level, and they lack resources at the K-12 level, and they lack the closing of the gap in educational attainment, then it is very difficult for us to take these dollars and turn them into real leadership for our communities,” she said.
In his budget speech, Pritzker touted revenue and workforce development plans aimed at improving social equity. Chief among them is that 25 percent of legalized cannabis revenue will be reinvested in communities disproportionately affected by cannabis policing. That includes a $30 million fund for social equity applicants to take out loans and start cannabis businesses.
Black caucus members applauded the governor’s efforts but want to make sure those revenues actually reach black communities.
“Unemployment is low, but we still have double digit unemployment in many black communities,” said state Rep. Marcus Evans of Chicago, who is vice chair the House revenue and finance committee. “Send those dollars to the workforce programs and let's make sure that that budget promise today is a budget result for tomorrow.”
Pritzker also touted his efforts to improve the embattled Department of Children and Family Services, including retraining every staff member and implementing a simulation lab for front-line workers. Pritzker’s budget proposes a 7.9 percent increase in DCFS funding, as well as hiring 150 new workers.
“I am pleased to hear that our governor and his executive team are going to work to bring lives back together and to show Illinoisans that we care about one another through the Department of Children and Family Services,” said state Rep. Camille Lilly of Oak Park.
The governor’s proposal only represents his vision for how state money should be distributed across government, and not the final budget. Legislators will spend much of this year’s legislative session crafting the actual budget, which has to pass both houses and be signed by Pritzker by the end of June to take effect before the start of the next fiscal year.