PI Original Progress Illinois Friday July 24th, 2009, 9:18am

Leaders Lead, Regardless Of The Consequences

Fifty-five
days after the Illinois Senate Democrats passed House Bill 174, a tax
reform measure to balance the state budget, the General Assembly left
Springfield without the budget we hoped for. In fear of a government
shutdown and with no consensus on revenue ...

Fifty-five days after the Illinois Senate Democrats passed House Bill 174, a tax reform measure to balance the state budget, the General Assembly left Springfield without the budget we hoped for. In fear of a government shutdown and with no consensus on revenue enhancements, the legislature slapped a band-aid on the state’s financial crisis and put off the day of financial reckoning.  

With the imminent threat of government collapse, the state of Illinois adopted a budget that slashed billions of dollars in spending and did not raise additional revenue.  Some call this a reasonable solution.

In actuality, the budget passed by the General Assembly on July 15 brings no stability to state government.  Once again, the legislature borrowed from the pension funds and used fund sweeps and other short-term borrowing gimmicks, all while relying on stimulus funds that will not be available next year.

We learned several days ago that, based on this spending plan, the Illinois State Board of Education has been forced to make drastic cuts.  Here is the unfortunate reality:

- The budget forced the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to make $400 million in programmatic cuts;

- Early childhood education lost $123 million, which means 30,000 kids will lose preschool services this fall;

- Several programs were eliminated entirely, including After School Matters, After School Programs, the Class Size Reduction Pilot, Gifted Education, Jobs for Illinois Graduates, Targeted Interventions, the Textbook Loan Program, Hard to Staff School Incentives, and Homeless Education, among others; and

- Other programs, like early childhood education, received significant cuts, including Bilingual Education (25%), Arts and Foreign Language (50%), Reading Improvement Block Grants (50%), Blind and Dyslexic education (33%), Children’s Mental Health Partnership (33%), Materials for the Visually Impaired (33%), and Grow Your Own Teacher (50%).

As a mother of three children who understands the importance of educational programs, this type of approach will almost certainly hurt Illinois families. These cuts once again re-affirm the need for a comprehensive solution, and unfortunately the worst is yet to come. Over the next few weeks, we’ll learn more about state cutbacks such as facility closures, lay-offs, and more cuts to critical state and local service agencies.  

While House Bill 174 wasn’t perfect, it did include many of the components that constituents from Lake County to Cairo have been calling for: an income tax increase balanced by property tax relief and dollars for our pensions system.   

Those who have previously denied the need for new revenues, both Democrat and Republican, will be forced to face the unpleasant reality of our state’s fiscal insolvency.  We are broke.

I will continue to push for a solution that will result in Illinois getting back on solid financial ground because it is a fight worth fighting.  There is a direct correlation between the taxes we pay and the services we provide.  The state of Illinois has a responsibility to educate our children, ensure the safety of our residents, and care for our seniors and veterans.   On top of all of that, and especially in this time of recession, we cannot cut services that vulnerable citizens rely on to get back on their feet.  Fear, hunger, drug addiction, homelessness, aging, foreclosures, or unforeseen health challenges are all equal opportunity stressors for many people in our communities.

These are not Democrat or Republican issues. Just reality.  I’m not fighting for taxes; I’m fighting for people.

I have always put our children and the future of our state ahead of everything else, which is why I co-sponsored House Bill 174.  Supporting such a measure means investing in our future, rather than being fearful of criticism from those who will not or cannot suggest alternative solutions to our state's historic multi-billion-dollar structural deficit.

I remember all of the things I used to say about the General Assembly -- as a taxpayer, a voter, and a mom.  I wanted representatives who believed in people, who could engage in meaningful and principled debate, and who weren’t afraid to fight for basic democratic principles.  We need more from our legislators.

It’s a toxic political environment, which makes for pretty rough waters.  But master sailors are never trained in calm seas. Leaders lead, regardless of the consequences.

Toi W. Hutchinson (D-Chicago Heights) is a state senator representing Illinois' 40th District.  You can find more information about on her website or Facebook page.

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