Editorial Roundup: Illinois

Chicago Tribune. June 2, 2024.

Editorial: A balanced state budget. But hardly Springfield Democrats’ finest hour.

Next year’s budget looks rougher, and “easy” money grabs were used this year

Here’s the good news: Illinois lawmakers under Gov. J.B. Pritzker passed a balanced budget for the sixth straight year, protecting the state’s credit rating and continuing the relative fiscal stability that’s been consistent since the chaotic years of the Gov. Bruce Rauner-Speaker Mike Madigan political wars.

That’s about it for the good stuff, though. The bad — or at least worrying — news is that lawmakers approved more than $1 billion in new revenues to plug a shortfall for the coming fiscal year and to finance more spending for a wide variety of projects and programs. The budget the House sent to Pritzker in the wee hours Wednesday after a tumultuous night that made sausage-making look good by comparison strikes us as imprudent. The philosophy, if one can be gleaned from chaos, is spend what you can get your mitts on today and worry about tomorrow when it comes.

That’s akin to how some teenagers of our acquaintance think about money. But state leaders are supposed to be the grown-ups, led by the governor, guiding Illinois through what continues to be choppy fiscal waters. The grade we would give this year’s $53.1 billion budget is a C-minus, and that’s generous.

Why? Pritzker and fellow Democrats turned to an unusually wide array of cat-and-dog revenue raisers, aimed at keeping income taxes level for individuals. They included reducing how quickly businesses can write off their net operating losses from the pandemic era, sharply higher taxes on sports betting companies, a cap on the allowance retailers get for collecting and remitting sales taxes (more on that Monday), a new tax on firms that reserve and re-rent blocks of hotel rooms and more. That random assortment is the state-budget equivalent of looking under the couch cushions.

Even some Democrats are growing alarmed at the spending. As lawmakers were preparing to leave Springfield last week, Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, warned that next year’s budget is likely to feature yet another revenue shortfall, and that’s before lawmakers have to worry about coming train wrecks like the $700 million-plus funding cliff for Chicago public transit agencies. With Springfield having blown its wad on relatively “painless” revenue raisers this year, Crespo said, “There’s really only one place we can look at getting these revenues, and that’s taxpayers.”

Of course, this year is an election year for state lawmakers. Next year isn’t. Watch your wallets, Illinoisans.

Illinois’ tax burden, one of the highest in the nation when state and local taxes are taken into account, is one consideration. Another — and it’s directly tied to the revenue pressures the state now is feeling — is the business environment in Illinois and more particularly in Chicago, the state’s principal economic driver.

The easiest (and by far most politically popular) way to raise tax revenues is to create the conditions for business and population growth that produces those increases organically rather than having to take yet another bite of the existing pie. Those conditions certainly don’t exist in Chicago right now, at least not the way they should, due to a shaky city government dominated by progressive tax-and-spenders. In Illinois, the environment is brighter thanks to the Pritzker era’s fiscal stability, but the tax burden remains a major impediment.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce President Lou Sandoval echoed Crespo’s comments and chided Pritzker’s team for behaving “a little stand-offish on not allowing other core groups to have a seat at the table” during budget negotiations.

“I think at his core, (Pritzker) probably understands that you’re going to be hitting a gap here, and you’re going to be painting yourself into a corner,” Sandoval told Capitol City Now. “Where you have to raise taxes at some point.”

Pritzker dismissed Crespo’s comments and GOP criticism. “Every year, particularly Republicans say things like that,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, we’re careening toward a brick wall.’ It hasn’t happened.”

Perhaps there are more rabbits to be pulled out of the budget next year. No one knows more about what the options are than an administration in power now for six years.

But these budget trends aren’t a surprise. They’ve been clear for a few years now and merited better planning. Much of the squeeze the state is feeling is due to the runoff of one-time federal contributions tied to the pandemic. Inherent in that largesse was the danger that state and local governments would grow accustomed to that cash and use it to create programs that couldn’t be supported with ordinary revenues. Once a program is established, there always will be advocates. And then the legislative trade-offs that come with every budget negotiation become ever more complex.

What is called for now is discretion — a change in attitude for this Democratic-dominated state. Listen to Rep. Crespo’s warning. Which programs are critical? Which are nice but simply not affordable right now? The Pritzker administration would do well to begin the process now of determining where to cut next year. Because cuts surely will be necessary to avoid the kinds of tax increases that hit more broadly than this year’s collection.


Chicago Sun-Times. May 29, 2024.

Editorial: Daily marijuana use is increasing. That’s cause for concern.

Millions of people drinking daily was already a problem, and millions more now getting high is another. Adults have to be smart about the risks of heavy cannabis use.

This will likely come as no surprise to most people, even if they didn’t see the recent news reports on the research: More people are using marijuana, more frequently than ever.

It’s an entirely predictable outcome of marijuana legalization, now in place in 24 states. Some 17.7 million people use marijuana daily or almost daily, which is more than the 14.7 million people who use alcohol daily or on a near-daily basis, according to an analysis of 2022 results from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health. The survey has been in use since 1979, but these latest results mark the first time that more people reported daily pot use than daily drinking.

Advocates of marijuana legalization are quick to cite its benefits. Recreational cannabis sales bring much-needed tax revenue to cash-hungry state governments; Illinois raked in $417.6 million in cannabis sales tax revenue in 2023. Legalization also is a blow to the war on drugs and its disproportionate impact on impoverished Black and Latino communities. There’s no going back to prohibition, especially now that the Drug Enforcement Administration has proposed removing marijuana from its Schedule 1 classification of far more dangerous drugs, such as heroin and ecstasy.

Even so, there are obvious reasons to be concerned about the growing heavy use of marijuana. “Safer than alcohol” is the conventional wisdom, but that doesn’t mean “without risk.”

Daily marijuana use can increase the risk of developing cannabis-associated psychosis, according to Dr. David A. Gorelick of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Heavy marijuana use has also been linked to heart problems. In a study published earlier this year in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers found that the more often someone smoked pot, the greater their risk of experiencing a heart attack or stroke: Daily users had a 25% higher risk of having a heart attack and a 42% higher risk of experiencing a stroke.

It’s also alarming that just as more people are reporting using pot daily, more people are reporting “driving while high” (which explains why you’re smelling pot smoke wafting from the open windows of drivers while sitting in traffic or waiting at a pedestrian crosswalk).

An eye-opening 12 million people age 16 and over reported driving while under the influence of marijuana in 2018, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis. Those ages 21 to 25 were most likely to report driving under the influence of pot.

Millions of people drinking daily was already a problem. Millions more getting high every day is another. But recreational marijuana is here to stay. Adults have to be smart about the risks of how much, and how often, they use pot.