Gov. J.B. Pritzker plans to spend $29 million to help ensure all of the state's residents are counted in the upcoming Census, which could have broad implications for the state in terms of federal funding and representation in the U.S. Congress.

He announced an executive order to help ensure an accurate count. He also blamed the state's flat income tax for Illinois’ declining population.

Speaking Tuesday to the Forefront group in Chicago, Pritzker said an inaccurate Census count could have “truly dramatic consequences” for Illinois.

“Our representation in the U.S. House of Representatives is on the line,” Pritzker said. “Hundreds of millions of federal funding is on the line. Our ability to adequately get resources to our communities is on the line.”

He said the stakes couldn’t be higher and Illinois is already behind.

Illinois' population has declined every year for the past five years and the state could lose one, if not two, U.S. Representatives in Congress

Pritzker said sending $29 million to nonprofits and other Census-focused groups will help ensure everyone is counted.

“It’s by far, and I mean by far, the largest per-person allocation made in any state in the United States,” Pritzker said.

The money will be used for outreach in rural communities and in diverse, inner-city communities.

“It will ensure that our immigrant and our undocumented communities are engaged in a process that they can trust,” Pritzker said. “The Census should never be used as a tool of fear and marginalization.”

Pritzker blamed former Gov. Bruce Rauner for not focusing enough on efforts to get an accurate Census count and said President Donald Trump’s policies on the Census were designed to “ensure an undercount … to slash funding and force communities into the shadows.”

Pritzker also announced an executive order to create a census office within the Department of Human Services to help with outreach and coordination.

As to the tens of thousands of Illinois residents who have moved to other states, Pritzker said who he thinks are packing up the moving vans.

The governor said college students have fled the state, but he said his push to increase higher education funding will reverse that trend. He also said there’s another group of people who have been leaving the state.

“The people who have been leaving the state are actually the people who have had the regressive flat income tax imposed upon them, working-class, middle-class families,” Pritzker said.

Pritzker successfully got the Democrat-controlled state legislature to pass a ballot question asking voters on the November 2020 ballot if Illinois’ flat income tax should be changed to a structure with higher rates for higher earners. Republicans opposed the progressive income tax measure.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, said the governor’s policies raising taxes and then agreeing to raise salaries for legislators is what will drive Illinoisans of all income levels out of the state.

“We need to cut Illinois taxes, not raise them,” McSweeney said.

Pritzker said he’s set to sign budget and infrastructure bills that include a variety of tax increases, including a doubling of the state’s gas tax, increased vehicle registration fees, higher tobacco taxes, gambling taxes and other tax increases Republicans have said are regressive taxes on those who can least afford it.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other statewide issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience, and previously hosted “Bishop On Air,” a morning-drive current events talk show.