Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of a $36.3 billion budget bill may force the state into a government shutdown, which doesn’t sit well with State Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-Westchester), chair of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus (ILBC).
“We cannot stand back and allow this to happen,” said Lightford, who fought back tears, after learning of the veto. “I don’t give a damn how much money he has. He can sit up in his mansion and not be affected, but all of us will feel the pinch. I want to fight. I need all of you all to fight with us. We have to fight this governor.”
“Don’t confuse my tears as a sign of weakness. I am mad as hell,” Lightford added. She made the statements at an ILBC rally against spending cuts proposed under Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda. The governor’s plan calls for a set of reforms on workers compensation, term limits and a property tax freeze, among other things.
The standing room only rally was held at a West Side senior satellite center on Thursday. It was one of three rallies held on the South Side and in the south suburbs by the ILBC.
Lightford said members of the caucus plan to meet over the next few days to devise a plan for handling the state’s dire fiscal situation. She also urged residents to remain active on the issue and called for a Civil Rights era-style march on the governor’s Springfield office.
“We all have to march on this governor like nothing before. I think we need the elders in this room to show us how to do it. You did in the 50s. You did it in the 60s. We need you to do it in 2015,” Lightford said.
In May, the General Assembly passed the Democrat-backed $36.3 billion budget package that called for some cuts while proposing several revenue ideas. But the governor vetoed the measure Thursday, refusing to consider new revenue options to shore up the $4 billion shortfall in the budget unless lawmakers passed elements in his Turnaround Agenda.
The state faces a $6 billion shortfall due, in part, to the expiration of the state’s temporary income tax hike, which began its sunset back in January. Rauner proposed a $31.4 billion budget that calls for the slashing of funds for a litany of social service programs in the areas of mental health, homelessness prevention, teen parenting services and youth employment programs. The governor has also proposed that the state’s supplemental funding for the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program be moved to the general revenue fund. The program helps low-income residents pay for their home heating bills.
“The governor is looking for chaos,” said State Rep. Art Turner (D-Chicago). “He wants a shutdown. That’s his version of shaking up Illinois. It does nothing for the people who depend on him. The people who depend on us to protect them.”
Members of the Black Caucus, Turner added, have been fighting all year to get the governor to understand the importance of these services. The lawmaker said Rauner prefers fingerpointing over discussing revenue options.
“If the governor wants chaos, he’ll get it,” Turner added.
State Rep. Camille Lilly (D-Chicago) was also critical of Rauner’s budget veto.
“To veto a bill a week before it’s due … means you have to start over,” she said. “It means it kicks the state more likely into a shutdown. Some things by federal law cannot be shut down, but others can.”
Lilly noted that many of the programs and service providers attending the packed rally will not receive funding unless a compromise is reached. According to Lilly, some of the revenue proposals state legislators offered to Rauner included the closure of corporate tax loopholes, taxes on services and restoration of the temporary income tax hike, which could generate $1 billion for every 0.25 percent increase.
“He still wants to do what he wants to do, which is his turnaround agenda, and we’re saying this is just not how government works,” Lilly said.
Here is more from the lawmakers at the rally:
During the two-hour rally, representatives of several social services organizations, youth groups and hospital officials spoke about the potential impact these cuts will have on those who can least afford it.
Cuts to human services will greatly impact ex-offenders, said Rev. Michael Eaddy, pastor of the People’s Church of the Harvest. Eaddy heads an organization that provides re-entry services for residents of the West and East Garfield communities. According to the Reverend, the community holds the city’s largest number of ex-prisoners.
For ex-offenders to successfully reintegrate into society, they need job skills, supportive services and mentoring, Eaddy said. He will be unable to provide such services if there is a government shutdown, according to the pastor. And without those services, Eaddy cautioned, ex-offenders will return to old habits that could lead to an increase in violence and crime.
“[I] never justify anything that is illegal or criminal, but people are trying to survive,” Eaddy said.
For clients seeking mental health treatment at Bobby E. Wright Comprehensive Behavioral Center, 9 S. Kedzie Ave., it is all about survival. The center, located in East Garfield Park, provides services ranging from medical care to case management and housing.
The center’s president and CEO Rashad Saafir called it “shameful” that the governor is cutting funds to help those with mental illness get access to “medications that keep them functioning and stable in the community.” Without access to treatment, he said, many will end up in Cook County Jail, which Sheriff Tom Dart has called the largest mental health facility in the county.
“Mentally ill people do not deserve to be locked away in the jail system,” Saafir said, noting that it costs $143 a day to keep someone in Cook County Jail.
“If the governor cuts funding, we are going to have people who suffer from mental illness … on the streets, in the jails, using emergency room services and inpatient psychiatric services,” he said. “So the governor is not saving any money. He is going to spend more money by these expensive services.”
Vachel Cumberlander, who attended the Thursday rally, knows exactly what a lifeline Bobby E. Wright can be for someone in need. He wouldn’t be alive today, he says, if it weren’t for the center’s assistance. There are other mental health programs that don’t provide the same level of care, according to Cumberlander.
“At one time I was suicidal … but this program really has helped me. So I just want to ask the governor not to cut mental health [services],” Cumberlander said.