Pritzker names budget director, deputy governor

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CHICAGO — Illinois Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker has tapped Alexis Sturm, a veteran of various state fiscal posts, to lead his budget office while former state comptroller Dan Hynes will fill one of his deputy governor positions.

Sturm will serve as director of the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget. “Sturm has over 20 years of experience in Springfield working on state fiscal policy, debt management, and administration,” according to a Pritzker statement.

Sturm brings bipartisan working experience to the table. She is currently director of cash management and bond reporting for Comptroller Susana Mendoza, a Democrat.

From 2015 to 2017, she served as chief of staff and deputy director for debt, capital, and revenue in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s budget office. Rauner is the incumbent Republican governor who was defeated by Pritzker in the November election.

From 2004 to 2015, Sturm served as director of research and fiscal reporting and senior fiscal advisor for Mendoza’s three predecessors in the elected post — Dan Hynes, Judy Baar Topinka, and Leslie Munger. Hynes is a Democrat. Topinka and Munger are Republicans.

Sturm previously worked in senior roles in debt management, revenue and economic analysis after beginning her state government career as a Dunn Fellow in 1997.

Hynes, a senior executive UBS Asset Management who served as comptroller from 1999 to 2011, was one of three deputy governor appointees named by Pritzker late last week. Hynes is currently leading Pritzker’s transition budget working group.

Pritzker also named two others to deputy governor positions: state Rep. Christian Mitchell, D-Chicago, and Jesse Ruiz, a partner in the Corporate & Securities Group of Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP who is president of the Chicago Park District Board and was a vice president of the Chicago Board of Education.

Illinois’ lowest-in-the-nation bond ratings hang in the balance as Pritzker and lawmakers face decisions in the coming year over how to stem red ink without adding to a $7 billion bill backlog, while paying for a new capital bill and addressing the state’s $129 billion pension mess.

Crafting a balanced fiscal 2020 budget is a top priority that “will impact everything our new governor is trying to accomplish,” Hynes said when the budget working committee was named. “We are going to be leaving here, rolling up our sleeves and working on finding ways to address these serious fiscal challenges of our state.”

Illinois has a roughly $1.2 billion structural deficit and there may be about $1 billion red ink in the current budget if the state is ordered to make good on all $400 million of overdue raises based on experience or savings from proposed pension buyouts. The sale of a state building in Chicago is also no longer expected to come to fruition in the current fiscal year.

The state is operating on a $38.5 billion general fund this year.

The new administration is expected to push for a constitutional amendment in 2020 to shift to a graduated income tax from the current flat one. It is eyeing expanding gaming, sports betting, and legalizing recreational marijuana as sources to generate more revenue.

Pritzker has also said he’s looking at a reamortization of the current pension funding schedule to boost upfront funding levels, which could including bonding.

“Illinois faces important fiscal policy choices in its upcoming legislative session that will go a long way toward determining the direction of its credit rating and outlook,” Fitch Ratings wrote in a recent report.

Fitch rates the state’s general obligation bonds BBB, one notch above Moody’s Investors Service and S&P Global Ratings. It assigns a negative outlook. The other two assign a stable outlook.

Pritzker, a businessman and philanthropist, will become a first-time political office holder next month when he’s sworn in. The Democrat will enjoy super-majorities of at least 71 Democrats in the House and 36 in the Senate.

Deep divisions between the Democratic-controlled general assembly and Rauner drove a more than two-year budget impasse that dragged the state’s rating to the edge of junk.

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