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Pritzker Budget Address

Gov. J.B. Pritzker delivers his budget address to a joint session of the General Assembly Wednesday at the Capitol in Springfield.

Plenty of governors have practiced the fine art of voodoo budgeting, full of gimmicks and sleights of hand.

Consider former GOP Gov. Bruce Rauner, who would perennially offer up selling the Thompson Center in Chicago's Loop to save money.

Yet rosy budget and revenue estimates are dangerous in a state saddled with $8.3 billion in tardy bills and public pensions underfunded by $133 billion. Squishy numbers make for dubious financial planning.

Tell that to Democrat Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

His $38.7 billion balanced budget is mortgaged on a whole lot of hope-for-the-best assumptions, including the legislative appetite for taxes on cigarettes and plastic bags and revenue from legalized sports betting and recreational marijuana.

Democrats control the Statehouse, so the presumption is these money-generating measures will face little hostility, but none have actually passed. Plus, budgeted revenue shortfalls for fiscal year 2019 budget are expected to hit $2 billion more in the bill backlog.

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Then there’s the expense side. On the agenda is hiking spending for social services and education, diverting money for public pensions to other programs, and launching an infrastructure plan to improve roads and bridges.

The credit rating agency Standard & Poor's Global Ratings calls the Pritzker budget "precariously" balanced and that it "punts measures to address fiscal problems to future years."

We call it more smoke and mirrors.

This is not a new trait for the governor. Candidate Pritzker was painfully vague on his plan for progressive income tax, which would create different tax levels based on earnings.

The strategy now appears is on a constitutional amendment to rid the state of a flat income tax of 4.95 percent for everyone, regardless of income.

The process to get that off the launching pad will take months. And then if successful, it will take many more months before the state gets any money.

Same goes for legal pot and sports betting. Both require an extensive approval process, meaning no revenue until those hurdles are cleared.

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All together, these kinds of inflated estimates create an almost Pollyannaish view of the state budget.

“It’s a tradition in true keeping with our democracy and a task that requires humble honesty and some bold optimism,” he told lawmakers in presenting the spending plan.

We disagree. We see no substantial ways of solving fundamental structural problems in state finances. No new reforms. No energy on curbing bloated pension debts. No tangible solutions to property taxes.

We can’t count on the revenue outlined here.

We all know that.

We see the warning signs.

So does state Comptroller Susana Mendoza, who took the unusual step of issuing a public statement warning Pritzker, a fellow Democrat, “to use realistic projections when estimating revenues and cost savings and to avoid relying on any concepts they know cannot be realized in fiscal year 2020.”

She said that “failing to do so essentially amounts to shoveling more bills onto our already unsustainable bill backlog.”

We need a responsible, realistic budget.

This is not one of those.

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