(The Center Square) – As Illinois state lawmakers return to Springfield, they will have to decide how to spend $7.5 billion in taxpayer funds the federal government is set to send the state.

The Illinois state government’s share of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan is expected to come in two installments over two fiscal years. Local governments in Illinois will share in more than $5 billion.

Last month, Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s Budget Director Alexis Sturm told lawmakers they want to focus on paying off around $3 billion in short-term borrowing last year during the pandemic.

“So we can call it all within two to three weeks and save ourselves quite a bit of interest costs,” Sturm said.

The state has more than $5.3 billion backlogged bills, according to a state comptroller report. Some of that debt for services already rendered could cost 12% a year.

Pritzker proposed a budget back in February to spend around $42 billion in state funds for the coming fiscal year that begins July 1, claiming a surplus of $120. Despite the planned surplus, he defended calling for more federal taxpayer resources for state spending.

Illinois Hotel & Lodging Association President Michael Jacobson advocated for $250 million of funds from the American Rescue Plan to go to hotels so they can open and pay employees.

“In the law that Congress passed creating ARP, they specified that a portion of the funds that states receive under this program should be used to support heavily impacted businesses in the travel, tourism and hospitality sectors,” Jacobson told a House committee last week. “It’s included in the law itself that was passed.”

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, said there may be such a need. But, she said policymakers need to spend the money wisely.

“I think if people have legitimate COVID-related expenses, that’s very different than starting a new program and asking for money,” Bourne said.

One measure Democrats have already passed onto the governor’s desk expanding taxpayer-funded health programs Republicans say could cost taxpayers upward of $12 billion extra.

Just before passing House Bill 158 last month, state Rep. Camille Lilly, D-Chicago, didn’t agree to that estimated cost.

“It gives us something to talk about,” Lilly said.

The state is focusing on providing health care for all Illinoisans, Lilly said, and she suggested how to pay for it.

“The billions that are coming from the federal government because of the pandemic, we do have a start of where the revenues are coming from,” Lillie said.

Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza said in February that the state absolutely needs that aid to pay back the emergency loans the state took on amid the pandemic.

“When we say that we need federal stimulus dollars, it’s not for new spending,” she said. “It’s to pay back the debts that we had to incur to get through COVID and stabilize our budget through this period of time.”

Lawmakers have a May 31 deadline to pass a balanced budget.

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Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.