They are elderly men and women in need of adult day care. They are the mentally ill. They are alcoholics and drug addicts. They are children who have no home.
Again this week, we see the price the neediest and least powerful people in Illinois are paying simply because the most powerful people refuse do their jobs. It is shameful. It is turning Illinois, once powerhouse state, into an economic and social backwater.
On Monday, the Chicago Tribune reported that Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, the state’s largest social service provider, is eliminating 750 jobs and shutting down 30 programs because it is running out of money. The state owes Lutheran Social Services more than $6 million. Almost 5,000 people will lose services.
The disheartening news comes just two days before Gov. Bruce Rauner is scheduled to give his second State of the State address, in which he no doubt will blame the Democrats in Springfield for a yearlong stalemate that is doing permanent damage to Illinois. Rauner will say he is holding firm out of deep principle, not obstinacy, for the sake of our state’s long-term economic health. He will say it is essential that the Legislature acquiesce to his turnaround agenda of pro-business, anti-union reforms.
But we see no heroes here. We see only ego-driven politicians — starting with Rauner and House Speaker Mike Madigan — who wouldn’t know how to compromise on RC Cola instead of Coke or Pepsi.
Here’s what Rauner said one year ago, speaking about the people of Illinois, in his first State of the State address:
“They want a government where people come together to solve problems and get things done. They don’t want partisan bickering, political infighting or personal conflict to get in the way of serving the needs of the families of Illinois.”
How’s that been working out?
Beginning today, we’re going to keep a tally, which we’ll call “Illinois Falling Apart,” of the latest proof that the people and businesses of our state are getting hammered by this nonsense. Hammered so hard they may never be the same.
We could have begun the tally last week, of course, when General Electric took a pass on moving its headquarters to Chicago because, as one executive said, “It seemed too big a risk.”
Or we could have begun the tally a few weeks ago when a college student from a lower-income family launched an Internet campaign to raise money for tuition because the state has frozen its main college grant program, the Monetary Award Program.
Or maybe we should have started counting when local health departments across Illinois began cutting back on staff and hours. Or when eligibility standards for child care subsidies to low-income families were raised. Or when police training classes across the state were canceled.
We were naïve. We never imagined such political dysfunction could continue so long. We though real life — real people getting hurt — would force a break in the stalemate. How silly of us.
How badly, by the numbers, is Illinois falling apart?
Reboot Illinois, a watchdog group, estimates that Illinois’ unpaid bill backlog by the end of the fiscal year, June 30, 2016, will be $9.03 billion. And funding for higher education is down $1.95 billion to $1.57 billion this fiscal year over the last fiscal year — but none of this year’s money has even been distributed because of the budget impasse. And people keep leaving; the state’s population dropped by 22,194 from July 2014 to July 2015.
Why do they leave? Maybe to find work.
Unemployment in Illinois stands at 5.9 percent, compared to 5 percent for the nation.
While philosophers philosophize — about the textbook virtues of free market individualism versus unionism and such — Illinois is falling apart. When do we reach a point of no return?
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