State Rep. Arthur Turner (D-Chicago) called Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposed budget a “doomsday situation” that is compounded by a $1.6 billion shortfall from former Gov. Pat Quinn’s underfunded FY2015 budget.
In February, Rauner proposed sweeping cuts to the state’s Medicaid program, higher education, mass transit and government pensions to address the state’s financial woes. The cuts aimed to combat a $6 billion deficit for fiscal year 2016, which begins in July 1, and the state’s $111 billion pension crisis. But critics of Rauner’s budget plan say those cuts adversely affect the poor and middle class families.
“It’s gonna be tough,” said Turner, who held a town hall meeting Monday night to discuss the impact Rauner’s proposed cuts could have on the state. More than 30 residents attended the meeting held at Mt. Sinai Community Institute, 2653 W. Ogden Ave.
Turner raised concerns about cuts to the state’s Department of Human Services. He noted that funding for DHS’s division of alcohol and substance abuse will be reduced by $27.5 million, while mental health funding would be cut by $82 million, and appropriations to the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) would be cut altogether. He said 40 percent of the DHS budget is set to be cut under Rauner’s plan.
“The mental health piece is a really important issue because our jails have become holding cells for people who have mental health issues,” Turner said. “We just don’t have the room or the capacity to host people who have mental health issues [in Cook County Jail], and it is not the right way to address their issues and get them back on track.”
Turner believes the Rauner administration is “truly approaching this as a business.”
“This is government with a real impact on people that affect real families…. We are trying to help him (Rauner) understand that as we … prepare to start working on the FY16 budget,” Turner noted.
To flesh out the budget’s impact on his constituents, especially nonprofits, Turner has launched two online surveys – one for individuals and the other for nonprofits. The goal, he said, is to learn about the trials and challenges facing of those in his community and take that information back to Springfield.
Donald J. Dew, president and CEO of Habilitative Systems Incorporated, said the governor is going against his stated mandate to protect the most vulnerable. Many of the proposed cuts do the exact opposite, said Dew, especially the governor’s executive order to freeze non-essential spending.
That mandate, Dew added, seemingly pits agencies against one another dwindling state funds. He noted that CeaseFire, the Chicago’s controversial anti-violence program, saw its funding suspended for the current fiscal year and then reduced by 60 percent for FY2016.
Dew noted that some of CeaseFire’s money was diverted to Adult Redeploy Illinois, which will see a budget increase from $7 million to $10.75 million. Adult Redeploy Illinois provides funding to local agencies to divert nonviolent offenders from the state’s prison system. Both programs, he noted, service the same population.
“Both areas are needed, not just one,” Dew said, noting that the number one health epidemic in the U.S. is violence.
“Anytime when our (gun violence) statistics are higher than those in Iraq or Iran, we got an issue,” he said.
Dew also questioned how the administration determines what are non-essential services. Teen REACH, which supports after school programs for 14,000 disadvantaged youth, would be cut from the budget as well as services for homeless youth.
“Could one conclude that the mere use of the term homeless youths might be categorized as essential,” Dew asked.
Without these services, he added, more youths will be on the streets, incarcerated or become victims of sex trafficking, which, he says, will end up costing to the state on the back end.
“This money has an impact on our ability to function on a day-to-day basis,” said Michael Holmes, executive director of the Illinois African-American Family Commission. Cuts to human services would not be on the table if the state kept the temporary tax increase in place. The 2011 temporary tax increase raised the personal income tax rate to 5 percent and the corporate income tax to 7 percent. The tax rates are now 3.75 percent and 5.25 percent, respectively.
“If we kept that tax revenue in place, which I could never figure out if I felt it … we wouldn’t be having this conversation about these cuts,” Holmes said. “The whole idea about saving money [by] not keep[ing] that tax revenue in place … this is the impact of that.”
Turner hopes he and his colleagues in the state legislature can reach a better fiscal plan than the one proposed by the governor.
“This is just a proposed budget by the governor. That what people have to remember,” Turner said. “His proposed budget is just his approach to it and it is not anything in stone.”
Turner said the Rauner administration appears to have no interest in entertaining new revenue streams, but added that it must be an option given the state’s financial position.
“With the problems that we have … there is just nowhere else left to cut,” Turner said. “We are down to the bone in certain situations. I don’t know how we are going to get there without talking about new revenues.”
North Lawndale resident Miller T. Rodgers said revenue could be generated by eliminating corporate tax breaks and loopholes meant to lure big businesses to the state.
“When you start taking away services for people who essentially have no control over their welfare, and still give tax breaks to the rich and big business, there’s a problem there,” Rodgers said.
“You cannot take from the poor and not take from the rich,” he added. “Big business has not even been mentioned in this problem. They could cut half the tax loopholes that are non-essential for big business and solve the budget problem.”