While lawmakers are patting themselves on the back for finally passing a state budget, social service and education leaders are saying “thank you” through gritted teeth.
There are no congratulations for lawmakers who made few if any decisions on property taxes, pensions, workers’ comp and the business climate in general. The new budget is a triple whammy: cut social service and other funding, don’t address the core issues, and give all of its taxpayers a pay cut.
Yet, after two years without a budget, those who depend on state money have cut programs, cut staff, cut recipients. Even with the new budget, many will receive less money than in the past and others may find that it’s too little, too late.
Illinois State University, for instance, is working on a way to continue its mission with $7.2 million less than it received in 2015. Less state money and fewer students — many of whom are attending classes in another state — means trying to provide a great education with far fewer dollars.
Long term, students who attend college out of state often opt to stay outside of Illinois when they begin their careers and families. Why move back to a place whose leaders can’t come to an agreement on a budget, who undervalue social service and education funding, and whose lackadaisical attitude turns off the possibility of new business? Even worse, whose actions dissuade current businesses from expanding or staying in Illinois?
“It will take years of hard work to reverse the damage that has been done,” Illinois State University President Larry Dietz said in a letter to faculty and staff. University of Illinois President Tim Killeen, in a letter to faculty, staff and students, said, “I hope the lessons learned during this long and difficult impasses will help to restore long-term stability.”
Secondary education has its own issues because money in the new budget won’t be released immediately thanks to new rules that aren’t yet in place.
“Until the evidence-based funding model becomes law, that money will not be released,” said District 87 Superintendent Barry Reilly.
Hardest hit, however, will be the state’s social service agencies that help the poor, the elderly, those in need of medical, dental and mental health care, the homeless, the under-educated and the unemployed and underemployed.
Many such agencies, whose budgets rely on a higher percentage of state funding, already have cut staff, programs and the number of people they can serve. United Way of Illinois estimated that nearly 30 percent of the state’s social service agencies could close by the end of the year.
The lack of a budget, and subsequent agency and school cuts, had immediate repercussions, but more importantly, will have long-term ramifications for individuals, counties and the state.
People who have left the state for school or work won’t come back; neither will businesses that have moved. Businesses that considered, but turned away, from Illinois won’t give us a second look. People looking for work may consider a job in Chicago, but the rest of the state’s employment rolls likely will remain stagnant. That will affect sales and property taxes as well as retail sales.
Are we glad that Illinois finally has a budget? Yes. Do we think lawmakers truly understand the pain they’ve caused and will cause Illinois?