Rich Miller

Rich Miller

State in no rush to help city migrant crisis

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By Rich Miller

Gov. JB Pritzker and House Speaker Chris Welch both threw cold water on the idea of a veto session supplemental appropriations bill to help Chicago handle the increasing influx of asylum-seekers from Venezuela.

Speaker Welch told reporters last Thursday he had “made it clear” to Mayor Brandon Johnson that “we were not expecting to do a supplemental budget in the veto session,” while the governor told reporters the week before that he hadn’t heard about any plans for a supplemental. Governors always know about supplementals because their office writes them.

There is simply no appetite in the General Assembly to tackle any super-controversial issues during the veto session, which runs from Oct. 24 through Nov. 9.

A big part of the reason for wanting a delay until the spring session is that veto session falls smack dab in the middle of petition-gathering season. The migrant issue is super-divisive, legislators are getting an angry earful at the doors as they gather petition signatures, and a public vote on spending more tax dollars could very well cause some irate constituents to run against them.

RichMiller 1

Rich Miller

It’s the same basic situation with extending the Invest in Kids Act, a $75 million income tax credit for contributing to groups that then pay for private and religious school scholarships. Teachers unions and progressives hotly oppose extending the program beyond its Dec. 31 expiration date, but some Democrats would still like to see it extended. Unless a reasonable compromise can be found, it will likely be kicked to next spring as well.

Plus, Mayor Johnson’s recent budget proposal cut the city’s earlier projected spending on the new arrivals by $50 million, while increasing spending on other items. That didn’t go over too well with legislators, either.

The message did not seem to get through to city hall, however. Members of the Johnson administration continued trying to negotiate their case through the news media, before ultimately abandoning their quest.

“Just because there isn’t necessarily a supplemental (appropriation) on the horizon — and I mean, I think those discussions are still happening — there’s ways that there can be funds redirected to the city,” Mayor Johnson’s deputy chief of staff Cristina Pacione-Zayas told reporters, according to the Chicago Tribune. She also said the city wanted the state to look at “reapplication” of certain state funds.

According to the article, CPZ, a former state Senator, pointed to state funding of official Welcoming Centers, which she said could be repurposed to help the migrants. Among many other things last fiscal year, the Illinois General Assembly appropriated $31 million in additional funds for the city and more than $50 million for the state to help deal with the asylum-seekers out of the Welcoming Centers program.

“Welcoming Centers are not for asylum seekers exclusively,” Pritzker spokesperson Jordan Abudayyeh emphasized to me. “There are other costs that appropriation has to account for.”

The legislature did approve appropriations for the city’s and the state’s migrant responses in the current fiscal year, which will bring total state spending since the crisis began to close to half a billion dollars, the governor’s office says. Since the city has not done a good job of standing up shelters and then moving people into housing, handing it money intended for the state’s response probably would likely not accomplish all that much. The situation is so bad that migrants are camped in tents outside of police stations now.

But it’s true that not every reallocation of state funding requires a supplemental appropriation bill. Budget items “like rental assistance, support for community-based organizations doing case work and HOME IL lines are increasingly funding services for the asylum seeker response,” Abudayyeh said. The HOME IL program is designed to alleviate homelessness.

This is a very tricky topic. Reallocating money to help asylum-seekers only validates complaints by black and Latino political leaders, including legislators, that their own constituents are being short-shrifted by state government in favor of the new arrivals.

Finally, this past Friday, Mayor Johnson got the message, telling reporters he would wait until next spring to ask for more state money.

“When they pass their budget in May, we’ll have some very intentional asks about how we can align our levels of government to meet this demand,” he told reporters, according to Crain’s Chicago Business.

That should help lower the temperature a little by ending the lobbying via news media, which usually doesn’t work in this business anyway. Hopefully, everybody can now get together on the same page and find some actual solutions.

Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.

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