(Chicago, IL) – August 27, 2010. State Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago) and State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) led a town hall meeting at St. Augustine College on Chicago’s north side on August 19 to discuss the current Illinois budget crisis, drawing some 100 north side constituents to weigh in on proposed budget solutions offered by local experts.
Ralph Martire of the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability and Laurence Msall of the Civic Federation blamed the $13 Illinois billion budget deficit on structural problems and called for comprehensive reform. Following their presentations, Harris invited audience members to share their views regarding state spending priorities.
Daphne Baille, Treatment Alternatives for Safe Communities‘ communications director, recommended that programs receiving federal matching dollars should be preserved, as well as legally mandated services.
“Services that save tax dollars, such as substance abuse prevention and treatment, should receive priority,” said Baille. “For example, the Illinois saves more than $18,000 for each person who goes through drug treatment and TASC case management as an alternative to prison.”
Audience members broke out in applause at Baille’s comments.
According to Martire, the Illinois human services budget has decreased 24% in less than a decade, when inflation and population growth are considered. Accounting for these variables, he said, between FY03 and FY10 the state spent approximately $4.4 billion less on human services than what was needed to maintain FY02 service levels.
Martire further stated that out of all 50 states, Illinois ranks number 37 or lower in every human service funding category.
Msall stated that the state budget crisis is the result of many years of borrowing, delaying bill payments, and spending more than the state could reasonably expect to receive in revenues. A consequence, presented in one of his slides, is that “the State creates uncertainty and instability for vendors, service providers, and agencies that depend on State funding or provide services for the State.”
State revenue projections remains bleak, with personal income tax levels fixed at 3%, the lowest flat tax rate in the nation. But even with more taxes and further spending cuts, the budget gap would remain wide.
The problem is structural, according to Steans.
“We can’t just cut,” she said. “It won’t solve the problem. We need reforms, increased revenue, some borrowing, and a change in the budget process.”
“You can’t tax your way out of it, you can’t cut your way out of it, you can’t borrow your way out of it, you can’t grow your way out of it,” he said.