State Sen. Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) joined Roseland community leaders, hospital workers and clergy Thursday morning to speak out against cuts to vital services and in favor of "fair-share" revenue solutions.
As the Illinois budget battle rages on in Springfield, state Sen. Emil Jones III (D-Chicago) says Chicago's Roseland neighborhood and other communities across the state cannot afford the deeps cut being proposed by Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner.
"We, as Democrats, know that the economy is suffering, so there would be cuts, but you cannot cut $6 billion out of the budget," Jones said at a Thursday morning press conference with Roseland community leaders, hospital workers and clergy outside the Lights of Zion MB Bible Church, 11636 S. Halsted St.
"You cannot put seniors out of their homes. You cannot make it harder for people to get programs, such as the Child Care (Assistance) Program," Jones added. "You cannot close up our hospitals in our district."
Jones said Roseland Community Hospital, 45 W. 111th St., faces about $14 million in total cuts under Rauner's proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.
"That cut will certainly shut down the hospital," he stressed.
The advocates spoke in front of the Roseland Community Hospital's asthma respiratory care van, services from which would have to be "pulled back," Jones said, if Rauner gets his way on the budget.
Tiffany Hightower, deputy director at Community Assistance Programs (CAPS), a non-profit employment agency providing training and job assistance services, added that the Roseland asthma van "is so vital to this community, because the Roseland community also suffers from environmental inequities."
"We have brownfields and all types of things that impact the quality of life for the children that live here," she said.
The press conference comes amid heated debate in Springfield over next year's budget.
Faced with a $6 billion budget deficit -- due mostly to the January rollback of the 2011 temporary income tax hike -- Rauner has proposed a $31.5 billion spending plan, which calls for no new revenue and would slash funding from a range of budgetary items, including $1.5 billion from Medicaid. Of that $1.5 billion cut, $735 million would come by way of slashing payments to hospitals.
Bonita Williams, a crisis worker at St. Bernard Hospital in Chicago's Englewood community and an SEIU* Healthcare Illinois member, spoke at Thursday's press conference. Williams said Rauner's proposed Medicaid cuts would be harmful to patients and workers alike. More than half of St. Bernard Hospital's budget relies on Medicaid, she said.
"We have a lot of patients that use (the hospital for) primary care. Children, family members, mothers with babies come to see us," she said. "If they cut the budget, we wouldn't be able to service them. Because if they cut the budget, that means that they're going to have to lay staff off."
Williams said lawmakers need to get serious about making corporations and the wealthy in Illinois pay their "fair-share in taxes" in an effort to address the state's pressing fiscal issues.
For their part, state Democrats have put forward a $36.3 spending plan that's $3 billion short. They have proposed some spending cuts and want to work with the administration in finding new revenues to tackle the budget.
Rauner's office calls the Democrat-backed budget -- which has cleared the legislature, but has not been sent to the governor's desk -- "broken" and "phony."
The governor is refusing to sign an unbalanced fiscal plan and says he will not consider new revenue options unless Democrats go along with components of his controversial pro-business "Turnaround Agenda," like term limits, a property tax freeze and workers' compensation reforms.
When asked by reporters about a possible compromise on Rauner's Turnaround Agenda, Jones said: "We can look into all those issues."
"Workers' comp is an issue in Illinois, but I don't want to make it impossible for workers who get hurt on the job ... to be able to collect workers' comp," he said. "That's not fair."
Today, the Illinois House passed along party lines a workers' comp reform measure backed by House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago). The Rauner administration says the legislation is inadequate and contains "phony reforms."
Jones, meanwhile, flatly rejected the term limits idea.
"When you have term limits, the special interest controls Springfield," the state senator said. "I'm not supportive of term limits at all."
As an alternative to Rauner's Turnaround Agenda, Illinois Senate Democrats on Tuesday offered up a legislation package focused on helping middle-class families, including measures to increase the state's minimum wage to $11 by 2019, close corporate loopholes, implement paid sick time requirements for workers and provide students with free community college for two years as well as public university tuition tax credits.
When it comes to tackling the budget, Jones acknowledged that a tax hike alone won't fix the state's fiscal problems.
"Closing a lot of these corporate loopholes will solve it," he said.
"There's a bill sitting on the table right now that will close $780 million in corporate tax loopholes," Jones added. "But (Rauner) will not entertain it. I wonder why. So, if we could close those corporate loopholes, this $400 million he just cut ... will go away."
Jones was referring to the $400 million in cuts Rauner unveiled on Tuesday that the administration is preparing to implement "in order to begin balancing the phony Madigan-Cullerton budget."
In the event that a budget agreement does not happen by July 1, the administration said it is beginning the process to reduce spending in a number of areas, including the Child Care Assistance Program, the Community Care Program, which helps seniors stay in their homes, and a service that provides financial assistance to low-income Illinoisans for their heating bills. The governor also plans to put a stop on tax breaks for movie making as well as new EDGE tax credits, which are meant "to encourage companies to locate or expand operations in Illinois when there is active consideration of a competing location in another state," according to the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity's website.
The Rauner administration is further preparing to halt the Illiana Corridor project and shut down state museums and other facilities, including the Hardin County Work Camp and possibly two juvenile correctional facilities.
SEIU Healthcare Illinois President Keith Kelleher blasted Rauner's impending cuts Tuesday, saying they "will not pass muster in court and they certainly do not pass muster with the values of the people of Illinois. They will inflict pain on countless struggling families and seniors--all in the name of 'reform.'"
"The bottom line is that Bruce Rauner refuses true budgetary reform--generating much-needed revenue by making the wealthy of the state pay their fair share," Kelleher continued. "Denying child care for kids; home care for seniors; and the crucial resources that thousands of working families rely upon to meet their most basic needs shows a warped set of priorities, especially when Gov. Rauner is doing everything he can to protect those at the very top."
With Democrats, who control the legislature, and the Rauner administration still apparently miles apart on the budget, reporters asked Jones what needs to happen for there to be progress on the matter.
"I believe the governor needs to start listening and being compassionate, as he promised," Jones said. "From what he has shown, this is nowhere near compassionate."
Here's more from Jones and Hightower:
Also on Thursday, SEIU Healthcare Illinois issued a report detailing the potential negative impacts of Rauner's proposal to slash funding from a host of child care and family services.
According to the report, the proposed changes to the eligibility criteria for the Early Intervention program and the Child Care Assistance Program outlined in Rauner's 2016 recommended budget could result in a large number of families losing supports.
As for the Early Intervention program, which provide services for families with children who have diagnosed disabilities or developmental delays, the report says "at least half of the 21,249 children served in FY2014 would have their services eliminated if the state increases the definition of developmental delay from 30 percent to 50 percent, as the governor proposed."
Regarding the Child Care Assistance Program, proposed changes to the eligibility criteria could mean over 100,000 low-income children losing services, according to the report.
In light of the report and in response to Rauner's announcement of the $400 million in spending reductions on Tuesday, Brynn Seibert, vice president of the child care and early learning division for SEIU Healthcare Illinois, said: "Since he took office, Rauner has shown no regard for the welfare of our state's children. Rauner's unilateral cuts to the Illinois Child Care Assistance Program will deny over 9,000 children and 5,000 parents needed child care each month -- causing direct harm to children, families and communities and making it impossible for low-income working parents to get ahead.
"At the same time he's slashing the Child Care Assistance Program, Rauner is also threatening to plunge home care workers and child care providers employed by the State and their children deeper into poverty by freezing their pay and taking away their health care," Seibert added. "Families will not stand by while Gov. Rauner unilaterally cuts services for children and families while refusing to raise revenue by making the rich pay their fair share."
*The SEIU Illinois Council sponsors this website.