A Political Budget

The Illinois General Assembly has gone home for the summer, but not before passing a 2012 state budget that drastically cuts services for the neediest and most vulnerable people in our state. The sad truth is that most of the cuts were unnecessary: there were reliable sources of revenue that could have been called upon.

The Speaker of the House joined forces with Republican leadership in mandating a revenue figure $2 billion lower than the Governor had recommended, and $1 billion below the Senate recommendations.

They ignored the projections of the Commission on Government Forecasting Accountability (COGFA), which over time has been the best predictor of state revenues.

Why did this happen? Even though all budgets are highly political documents, this one is perhaps even more so. According to one insider who has viewed budget-making for many years, “I knew this is what was going to happen. The leadership wanted to be able to say when running for office next year that they had passed a budget $2 billion lower than the Governor’s recommendations.”

After fighting against these cuts for the entire year, and intensely so over the last two weeks of May, the temptation is to “demonize” those in charge. But, not only is fault-finding unproductive, in the final analysis, it is not fully accurate to blame our legislative leaders.

In passing this political budget, they are accurately reflecting what most Illinois residents wanted them to do. They are mirroring public anger over the recent income tax increase. They are responding to those who do not share a concern for the role of government in assisting those who are most vulnerable, those needing a helping hand. They interpret the common good far differently than those who were in Springfield pressing to avoid the cuts, or they do not interpret it all.

Some legislators tried to minimize the human and social costs of the cuts: “It’s a reduction of only 1% (or 2% or $1 million).” Perhaps it’s easy to see the cuts as small as long as we’re not the people who are being affected by program reductions, fewer intake staff at state offices, and less monitoring of service delivery quality. But, for the children, youth, families, and older adults who count on state-funded, community-based services, the cuts are not small.

For example, Voices for Illinois Children estimates that the 5% cut to the Early Childhood Block grant means that 4,000 young children will no longer be able to participate in Preschool for all programs, and 1,000 at-risk infants and toddlers will lose early intervention services.

The Department of Human Services, the Illinois agency which serves many of the state’s most vulnerable people, received a disproportionate cut of 17% in the General Revenue Fund (GRF) budget. That represents a substantial loss of program dollars and includes cuts to personnel and operations of state departments, a move that will certainly cause further reductions in the number of people that can be served through state-funded programs.

Consider this sampling of service cuts:

  • $17 million from the Early Childhood Block Grant
  • $2.8 million from Child Care for children of low-income working parents
  • $170,000 from Home Visiting (Parents Too Soon and Healthy Families Illinois)
  • $1.8 million from the Illinois Children’s Mental Health Partnership
  • $12.8 million from State Transitional Assistance – eliminating the program
  • $1.7 million from State Family and Children Assistance – eliminating the program
  • $1.4 million from Addiction Prevention Related Services
  • $16.9 million from Addiction Treatment Services
  • $5.9 million from Teen Reach Youth Programs
  • $4.7 million from Transitional Housing Programs

We will do all that we can to get some of these cuts restored. There are three things that you can do today: call your state representative and your state senator and tell them that you are disappointed in the harmful cuts to human service programs. Let them know that if they go back for a “special session” this summer, you hope they will allocate additional funding to fill some of these disastrous holes. Then, call the Governor’s office (217-782-6830 Springfield or 312-814-2121 Chicago) and let his staff know you hope the Governor will use his FY11 discretionary funding to fill some of the gaps in the FY12 human services budget.

It didn’t have to be this way. And, thankfully, it still does not. We have options for curbing some of the pain vulnerable people in Illinois will feel if these cuts are actually implemented. Let us act swiftly, keeping in our hearts and minds those most in need.

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