By Jamey Dunn and Lauren N. Johnson
Human service providers fear that they will be targeted for deep cuts when Gov. Pat Quinn presents his budget tomorrow.
Quinn has warned that despite the recent income tax increase, it will be a “lean year” for state government. Since the governor ran in the general election on a proposed income tax increase for education, those working in human services say they will likely bear the brunt of cuts aimed at closing the state’s gaping budget hole.
“There’s probably no doubt of that because there is no other large post of money other than education to tap into to deal with the crisis,” said Don Moss, coordinator for the Illinois Human Services Coalition.
Social service providers testified on the impact of substantial cuts during this fiscal year and potential cuts during the next before a Senate committee today. No similar hearings were held today focusing on any area of government that represents a large amount of spending, such as education or health care.
“It’s seems like whenever there is a budget shortfall, the first place they look [to cut] is in the human services budget,” said Chicago Democratic Sen. Mattie Hunter. “I think that the message that’s being thrown out there is that you’re nobody. That you’re providing a nobody service … or that you’re just a waste of time.”
Hunter said drastic cuts to human services would likely push costs to other areas, such as corrections, as crime rates and other problems increase because of an eroding social safety net. Providers agreed and added that potential for cuts are limited by law and their contracts with the state.
“Our missions urge us to create better lives for those who need and depend on our support, while our businesses are being crushed under the weight of pressures that currently exist. We cannot raise prices like other business because our rates are set in contract or statute. We cannot lay off staff like other industries because our staffing powers are set in rules. And we cannot discharge individuals because it is prohibited in our contracts,” said Janet Stover, executive director of the Illinois Association of Rehabilitation Facilities. “If the community support network is not preserved … we will have to revert back to dependence on institutions, on prisons, on other costly settings that don’t serve people well, and they don’t serve the state well.”
Moss said services for people with developmental disabilities could be relatively safe from budget slashing. “It was confirmed to me today that they will be the last to be cut.” However, he says funding for programs for the mentally ill and addiction treatment will probably be hit hard because spending on many of those programs is not matched by federal Medicaid dollars.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans say they can only back a budget proposal that includes cuts and roundly rejected Quinn’s plan to borrow $8.75 billion to pay down the state’s mounting pile of overdue bills to social service providers, vendors and schools.
“We have new revenue coming in based on the income tax increase,” said Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno. “If we reduce the spending, we can use that additional revenue to begin to pay those bills off.”
She added,” We don’t have to pay it off 100 percent in one day. Even bringing people current to say within 90 days, which would be a huge improvement, is less of a hill to climb.”
Radogno said to address the backlog, legislators will have to make difficult choices, including cuts. Republicans compared recent budgets to shell games, saying that Quinn made shifts in the current budget but did not follow through on the cuts that he promised. “We are repeating the pattern of spending, borrowing, having a crisis, needing to raise taxes. We’ve got to stop that,” Radogno said.
Moss said the Republican rejection of the borrowing plan is an added blow to human services because many providers are waiting for payments from the state. “What happened today was shutting off the only possibly safety net that [social service providers] had. … The delayed payments are almost as bad as the cuts in recent years. … The payrolls can’t be met. We’re losing good staff.”
Moss acknowledged that there is still time to work out a compromised borrowing plan in the coming months of budget negotiations and said providers will continue to heavily lobby the governor. But he said, as of now, negotiations seem to have shut down. “Suddenly the door slammed shut.”
During the last legislative session, Senate Democrats could pass a borrowing plan, which requires a three-fifths majority, without Republican support, but now they lack the numbers. So the proposal has become a potential bargaining chip for other reforms, such as changes to the state’s workers’ compensation system. “This is the only way they can flex their muscles, when the three-fifths vote is needed,” Moss said. “They’re pushing the only way they can.”
He added: “We’re going to keep trying. We’ve seen over the years many things go down in flames and then somehow rise out of the ashes again.”