With his latest comments Thursday, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has taken almost every possible position imaginable on the Invest in Kids Act.
During his first run for governor, Pritzker agreed with the teachers’ unions and progressive activists by calling the program “a really bad idea,” and said he opposed keeping the law on the books.
The program provides $75 million in income tax credits for those who donate to organizations that then provide scholarship money for private and parochial school students. “What I oppose is taking money out of the public schools, and that’s what happened here,” he said, a promise Pritzker would have to break in 2020.
Once elected, Pritzker “agreed” to fund the program if the General Assembly did what state law required and put an additional $350 million into the “evidence-based” education funding program, which was gonna happen anyway.
In 2020, Pritzker ditched the annual $350 million evidence-based increase because of pandemic budgetary pressures, but the Invest in Kids Act was left intact. Campaign promise broken.
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In 2021, Pritzker floated the idea of reducing the 75 percent income tax credit for donations to 40 percent. But he ultimately did not stop legislators from continuing it as-is.
In 2022, the governor signed a bill that tweaked the tax credit law to, among other things, make sure families who had kids receiving the scholarships were put first in line each year for new scholarships.
During the 2022 campaign, Pritzker told the Chicago Sun-Times he supported continuing the program: “With assurance from the advocates for Invest in Kids that they will support increased public school funding, my budgets have ultimately included the relatively small Invest in Kids Scholarship Program.”
Governor keeps changing his mind
The tax credit is set to expire at the end of this calendar year. The General Assembly took no action to extend the sunset during the 2023 spring session. And the governor has taken three different public positions since early June.
Shortly after the legislature adjourned in May, Gov. Pritzker told reporters he’d like to see a change in the way the tax credits worked.
“I think we should have tax credits that support education,” Pritzker said, “But we also have the federal government willing to cover about 40 percent of the cost.” The state tax credit law as currently written doesn’t allow for federal tax deductions, so he wanted the law changed.
In July, Pritzker flipped from calling Invest in Kids a “relatively small” program during the 2022 campaign to saying, “People who say, ‘Well, actually it’s not costing taxpayers anything,’ actually, it’s costing taxpayers 75 percent of the total amount that gets raised. And so that’s something that I think some people who are budget conscious are paying attention to as well.” But, he said, “I’m willing to work with the program if it gets extended or to figure out how we would wind down the program if it doesn’t get extended.”
With the veto session fast approaching in late October and new draft legislation circulating about scaling back the program’s cost to $50 million from $75 million, adding an allowance for federal tax breaks and increasing the number of eligible kids if they live in neighborhoods with significant poverty, Pritzker was asked Thursday where he currently stood.
“I will support it if it comes to my desk to extend the program in whatever form,” the governor said. “I mean, I can’t imagine it would show up in some form, that, you know, that I would be unwilling to. But, again, the reality is that the legislature needs to go through this process, and I have said that from the very beginning.”
The leaders of the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association have mostly stayed quiet while Pritzker flipped all over the place. Not after that vow, though. The teachers’ union presidents issued a joint statement the following morning: “Governor Pritzker has chosen to side with anti-public education Republican governors in other states with his support of vouchers, going against the values of the Democratic Party, which clearly stands opposed to vouchers.”
Recent statewide polls conducted for proponents have shown strong support for the tax credit-based scholarships. But few people actually believe that the tax credit program will be approved during veto session. So, this Pritzker statement could be considered a relatively safe political punt to the General Assembly that was too late to change many minds.
More importantly, Democratic legislators now have a preview of what the unions will say about them if they do vote to keep the program alive.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.
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