January 11, 2017
The following letter to the editor was published the week of January 8, 2017.
January 1 marked the beginning of the 19th month in which Illinois has operated without a comprehensive, balanced budget. To be clear, recently expired “stopgap” measures should not be considered a budget, because they did not limit the state’s known spending obligations with available revenue for any period of time.
For more than a year and a half, our elected officials have asked social service agencies, institutions of higher education, local governments and state vendors to continue providing services to millions of Illinoisans without adequate funding. The result has been disastrous.
- Because Cook County was owed tens of millions of dollars by the state, officials made cuts to critical programming such as child support enforcement and vision and hearing screenings for the needy.
- Many Illinois universities that floated grants for low income students in the fall will not or cannot commit to do so for the spring.
- Redeploy Illinois, which diverts non-violent juvenile offenders from the Department of Juvenile Justice into community programs (saving taxpayers millions of dollars), has been forced to cut service and reduce enrollments.
- Domestic violence shelters throughout the state found out just weeks ago that they were not included at all in the stopgap package.
- Illinois’ backlog of health insurance claims for state workers, for which there has not been an appropriation since the end of FY2015, stands at approximately $4 billion.
- Chicago Public Schools, having received some increased funding for FY2017, remains on the brink of insolvency, as do school districts across the state.
While the Governor and all members of the General Assembly continue to bear responsibility for the ongoing impasse, Illinois’ reputation, attractiveness for business, higher education and social services infrastructure and its safety net have been shredded, leaving some well-established organizations hanging by a thread. It is time for our state lawmakers to perform their constitutional duty and enact a comprehensive, balanced state budget.
There are no politically easy decisions left. The Governor and leaders of both parties must identify which line items they would cut and what new revenue sources they would employ and present a full budget. Cost-effective supports for at-risk populations, opportunities to get ahead for working families and the predictability to plan and grow for businesses all rely on a complete budget. Our elected officials must put aside political agendas and do the difficult work before them. The success of our state depends on it.
- John Bouman, President, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law
- Laurence Msall, President, Civic Federation