Standing Over a Big Hole

Last week several PCG board members had the opportunity to discuss the state budget crisis with a colleague who – in addition to attending PCG Board meetings – also serves as the Illinois Secretary of Human Services.

We asked her about the crisis. Her reply was haunting: “We feel like we are standing over a big hole.”

How could she and others in the current administration not feel this way? The state budget deficit is now at least $12 billion – nearly one-half of the state’s $26 billion general revenue fund.

When it comes to the size of our budget hole, we are closing in on the kind of disaster that forced California last summer to meet its obligations with hand-written IOUs.

Am I exaggerating? On December 9, 2009, the Chicago Sun-Times ran an article with the headline “Illinois Gets Credit Rating Downgrade.” Here’s the telling part: “The move leaves only California with a worse credit rating, a Moody’s spokesperson said.”

Only if a majority of Illinois citizens feel how this disaster is affecting them will things begin to change. Surely we are getting to this point when the University of Illinois is wondering whether $436 million in unpaid bills will make it necessary to shorten the school year. Even the Chicago Tribune is acknowledging a problem with its headline on January 11: “Backlog Grows To Historic $5 Billion – While Schools, Hospitals In Pain.”

Despite the budget implosion, it is possible that our legislators will postpone action in the next several months, until we are safely past the general elections next November 4th. We cannot let this happen.

Working with the broad-based Responsible Budget Coalition, PCG has helped to prepare a letter which we will be forwarding to legislative leaders. We urge that you sign the letter and spread the word, asking your pastor and members of the congregation to join with you. We hope also that you will be with us in Springfield on February 16th as we deliver the letter and signatures to members of the General Assembly.

On this weekend celebrating his birth, the words of Martin Luther King, Jr at the top of the letter are appropriate once again. We are faced with the “fierce urgency of now.” Our voices are needed as perhaps never before in the history of the state.

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