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Illinois Budget Crunch: Politics as Usual?

Like many other states, Illinois is facing a budget crisis. Governor Pat Quinn and the state legislature are dealing with a $7 to $9.2 billion deficit if no new revenues are forthcoming.  Historically, there has always been a certain amount of wrangling over the state budget, but this time many are worried, about it happening in the very different context of a serious recession and economic downturn.

Since Illinois failed to pass a state budget before the new fiscal year began on July 1, 2009, many social services organizations that provide health care, domestic violence shelter, youth services, and other kinds of essential care were forced to close their doors.  Alex Parker of the Chi-Town Daily News writes, "If state legislators and Gov. Pat Quinn are unable to resolve the budget impasse, the city would have to reduce the number of food inspections, offer fewer vaccinations for diseases like polio and measles, see fewer mental health patients, offer fewer mammograms, and reduce lead inspections and screenings."

The Campaign for Illinois’ Future–a growing coalition of community organizations, advocacy groups, labor unions, and working families representing over 250,000 Illinois citizens–has been busily advocating for the restoration of many of these services. According to their website, "Cuts to Medicaid would have a ripple effect throughout Illinois’ health care system. A one-third reduction in the state’s Medicaid spending is equivalent to cutting: 7,000 nursing home workers statewide – that would mean 5 fewer caregivers in every publicly-funded nursing home in the state."

Governor Pat Quinn threatened to cut these services if his proposed increase in Illinois income tax wasn’t approved by the legislature as a remedy to the deficit. This increase would put Illinois on par with other income tax levels throughout the nation. John Bachtell of People’s Weekly World writes, "Demonstrations have taken place across the state over the last few weeks against the cuts and for a progressive tax increase to solve the budget crisis. Supporters of HB 174 point out it raises approximately $7 billion in new revenues while modernizing the state’s tax system and making it fairer, by increasing the corporate income tax rate from 4.8% to 5% and personal income tax from 3% to 5%."

Many believe that with elections looming, passing any legislation that raises taxes is especially challenging. While others, who don’t support a tax increase argue that they are not against providing vital services, but have issues with how the increase will be spent. They argue that it may be politics as usual, but we are living in a very unusual economy.  Jim Kales, chief executive of Aspire of Illinois said, "Social-service agencies are being unfairly targeted for cuts and that all parts of the state budget should share in spending reductions. Reforms also should be part of the discussion."

With Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s announcement that she will not be running for Governor, some think Illinois may be on the brink of a political domino effect and that some may be resisting passing a budget in order to politically weaken Quinn. And while theories and debates abound, many question the logic of cutting vital services in lieu of such a small tax hike and resent what they deem political interference.

Chicago Department of Family and Support Services commissioner Mary Ellen Caron said, "The magnitude of these cuts cannot be measured in dollars alone," she said. "The cuts promise to devastate the very organizations that serve as the safety net for the most vulnerable in Chicago."

An anonymous commenter on Chicago Public Radio’s City Room said, "As a provider of services for troubled youth, disabled youth, adopted and foster youth I want to let you know that they are scared to death about what the cuts will do to their present lives and their future. They fear the gangs that are waiting for them since the cuts mean no more after-school programs, no supportive services and in some cases, no place to call home."  

Do you think a tax hike should be passed? Why are these kinds of social services vital to the fabric of a democracy? How will these service cuts affect you? Do you think the failure to pass a budget is politics as usual? Should the citizens of Illinois be responsible for paying for these kinds of social services?  Is there room for these kinds of sacrifices especially in times of economic crisis?  Do you think a tax increase would be used for supporting these kinds of services, or would the funds be used differently?

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