Politics & Government

Hundreds of millions of dollars from legal weed will help balance budget, Pritzker says

Here’s what some people in Illinois think about legalized marijuana

As more and more states legalize marijuana, the popular opinion in Southern Illinois is that the drug should be legal in the Land of Lincoln, too.
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As more and more states legalize marijuana, the popular opinion in Southern Illinois is that the drug should be legal in the Land of Lincoln, too.

Illinois may be able to bring in $350 million to $700 million a year in new state revenue if marijuana is legalized, says the next governor of the state.

When Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker takes office in January, the Chicago Democrat will have Democratic super-majorities in the House and Senate.

So what does that mean?

Could there be legal marijuana for recreational use? Pritzker said on the campaign trail he is for it and in an interview said it could be a revenue source to help balance the state’s budget. Speaker Mike Madigan has recently given his blessing to legalizing weed.

Marijuana is legal in Illinois for medical use. A poll from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute says 66 percent of residents want marijuana legalized.

Pritzker in an interview said he estimates marijuana legalization could generate hundreds of millions of dollars for state coffers.

“There are revenue opportunities for the state like legalizing marijuana and that has the opportunity to bring $350 million to $700 million in revenue maybe as much as $1 billion, not to mention the jobs that will be created with dispensaries and production facilities,” Pritzker said.

A study by the Illinois Economic Policy Institute released earlier this month estimated $525 million in new tax revenue a year in the state and produce a $1 billion annual economic impact.

Pritzker said legalizing marijuana could be a key in balancing the state budget.

Pritzker also said sports betting and gaming expansion could be considered. He added the state’s economy also needs to grow.

“If we can grow jobs and bring businesses to the state, we’ll bring revenue to the state without raising any taxes, and second are efficiencies we can bring to state government that haven’t been brought before,” Pritzker said.

He gave the example of helping at risk kids get preschool to help them prepare to learn by kindergarten to eliminate need for remedial programs.

“Those are all the things we ought to be looking at, but it’s really important we address the structural deficit and making sure we’re balancing the budget properly,” Pritzker said.

Progressive income tax coming?

Also during the campaign, Pritzker called for a progressive income tax in the state.

In the days after the election, Pritzker said he would not push for an immediate tax increase, or doing an artificial progressive income tax by raising the rate but putting in place exemptions and tax credits.

State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea, said even with Democrats in control, they should work with the GOP on such important issues.

“Even though we have a super-majority, we need to engage the Republicans and work together to fix this budget crisis and this budget stalemate that’s gone on for too long,” Hoffman said.

The state went through a two-year budget impasse where outgoing Gov. Bruce Rauner and the legislature were unable to come to a budget agreement. Ultimately the General Assembly, with the help of Republican legislators, overrode Rauner’s veto of a spending plan and income tax increase.

“You can point fingers, and I can tell you what I believe, but it doesn’t do any good right now,” Hoffman said. “We have to address the budget, we’ll have to go that in a bipartisan manner and I think we’ll do that in a way that puts us long term on the road to having budget sanity, a fiscal reality that’s not spending beyond our means and do it across party lines being fair across all regions across the state.”

He does expect a capital bill to address roads and bridges and add capacity to help meet needs and spur economic growth. Money could also go to schools, Hoffman said.

“I’m hopeful that’s going to happen. Get the budget under control, make tough decisions where they need to be made, cuts where there have to be cuts, do it in a fair basis and also provide a jobs and infrastructure bill,” Hoffman said.

However, paying for a capital bill still would need to be determined.

Other possibilities

Hoffman also cited a gaming expansion, which could be beneficial to Fairmount Race Track, as well as sports betting and marijuana legalization.

“You can save money by restructuring some of the debt the state has, and treat the bonds and debt the way businesses would when you can favorably finance, and I think that should happen,” Hoffman said.

State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said he expected a tax increase to come down the pike.

“The era of divided government is certainly over at this point,” Schimpf said. “The Democrats do control all branches of government. I would expect them to follow through what governor elect Pritzker promised during the campaign, which was an expansion of government, an expansion of spending. Now I hope that they will seek to work with the Republicans, and take our input a little bit. I think the people of Illinois, they don’t want partisanship. They want us to come together to find solutions.”

“I don’t know how we increase spending by $10 billion without raising taxes. I like to reduce state spending, but that doesn’t seem to be the position of governor elect Pritzker,” Schimpf added.

Pritzker’s transition efforts and transition committee includes former Republican governor Jim Edgar and Republican legislative leader Christine Radogno, additions that make state Rep. Charlier Meier, R-Okawville, happy.

“I don’t want taxes to go up, I want to go on to keep working to bring business in. J.B. has been in business his whole life, hopefully we could keep bringing business in,” Meier said.

Meier said he hopes to have a working relationship with governor’s office.

“We want to keep jobs growing and we have to keep moving forward on that,” Meier said.

Stability in Springfield

However, with the Democratic super-majorities in place, as well as a Democratic governor, it might mean another thing may be in play: stability.

“My hope is we can accomplish stability in government and to make sure the most needy among our state are in fact funded with a reliable stream of government resources,” said state Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithon. “Obviously seniors as well as schools, education. I think what the state has been somewhat lacking over last four years is a sense of stability.”

Joseph Bustos is the state affairs and politics reporter for the Belleville News-Democrat, where he strives to hold elected officials accountable and provide context to decisions they make. He has won multiple awards from the Illinois Press Association for coverage of sales tax referendums.


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