Illinois is the New California (May 27, 2010)

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Despite what appears to be the inevitable ascent of the Chicago Blackhawks to Stanley Cup Glory (!), those of us in the Prairie State don’t get a win that often. In sports, we are a long suffering people. The Bears have not won anything since 1985, the 1990s glory days of the Chicago Bulls are long gone, The White Sox brought it home in 2005 (but honestly, say what you want, the Sox have never been “Chicago’s Team”), and the Cubs? Well, let’s not go there.

We are the State that brought you the bootlegging empire of Al Capone, as well the long reign of Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley and “outfit” politics. We are the land of unionized crime, and the entity that has sent two of its last three Governors to Federal prison (once the legal formalities of Blago are complete). Last Fall, we also suffered an embarrassing first round exit from the IOC’s final decision making process to determine the host City of the 2016 Summer Olympics. Ah yes, we have much to be proud of. No wonder we are also known for our drunkeness.

If it appears that I am guilty of conflating Chicago with the State as a whole, that is by design. Downstaters can howl all they want about Illinois being more than just the Windy City, but facts are facts. Chicagoland (City and suburbs) represents more than 75% of Illinois’ population, and roughly the same percentage of its economy. Take Chi-town out of the equation, and we’re left with just another agriculturally centered Red-leaning state.

However, it is not our legacy of losing, corruption, crime and other forms ignominy that I wish to write about today. As a career advocate for human services in Illinois, I would like to call attention to the sorry, pathetic state of lawmaking, and the attempts by the legislature to pass a fiscal year 2011 budget that make the more publicized financial problems of California and New York appear tame.

The Illinois State Senate is preparing to vote on a package, likely by the end of the day, that does nothing at all to address a badly needed increase of revenues. A 1% income tax hike, responsibly proposed by Gov. Pat Quinn, has been shot down over and again, not because lawmakers feel the funds are not needed, but instead because it is considered politically disadvantageous to stand up and do the right thing. The solution, according to these officials, is to attempt to balance the budget, and catch up on backlogged bills, by placing the burden squarely on the shoulders of the social services community – providers who care for children, the aged, the mentally ill, the abused, the homeless and substance abuse addicts. Yes, kick the weak and overworked while they are down. Brilliant!

Under this budget providers will be forced to operate where contracts and funding levels can be changed or cut at any moment. Key points include:

• An Emergency Budget Act that makes funding even more uncertain by giving the Governor unprecedented power (until January 2011) to make additional cuts.

• No human service organization will know about contracts to take affect July 1 for several more weeks, thereby dumping the costs of a quick shut down on the community, clients and staff.

• The Governor will be able to cut budgets at any time.

• There is no solution to late payments; they are simply kicked further down the road.

• There is no comprehensive solution to inadequate human services funding, or the larger issue of the State’s slow descent into insolvency.

If we slice through the political jargon here, what this basically means is that a budget will pass, but no one will know know anything about it until the Governor decides how the money will be allocated. Huh? Last time I checked, the State was not a monarchy. Unacceptable. Don’t we have a right to know where our tax money is going and how it is being use?. Isn’t the point of a budget process to sort all that out upfront? Nope, instead, weak and scared lawmakers are passing the buck right back to Quinn and telling agencies to lobby him for some of those lump sum dollars. What did we hire these people for?

Let’s not wait for the November elections to tell these turkeys how we feel. Call you legislator TODAY and demand better. If you don’t know who your district reps. are, you may access the following website to figure it out:

http://www.elections.state.il.us/DistrictLocator/DistrictOfficialSearchByAddress.aspx

In our cynical age, activism is often derided as both nerdy and pointless. That’s what they want you to believe because if you stay quiet, the status quo can continue unmolested. Let’s demand better Illinois! Let’s show the rest of the nation that we may produce a lot of silly headlines, but we have some backbone too.

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