Editor’s Note: This letter was sent by the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry to the following lawmakers: Gov. Bruce Rauner, Senate President John Cullerton, Senate Republican Leader Christine Radogno, House Speaker Michael Madigan, House Republican Leader Jim Durkin; state Sens. Pat McGuire, Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant and Sue Rezin; and state Reps. Larry Walsh Jr., Natalie Manley, John Anthony, Mark Batinick, Emily McAsey and Margo McDermed.
On Jan. 27, Gov. Bruce Rauner delivered his State of the State address to a joint session of the Illinois Legislature. The governor offered his perspective on difficult state-level issues like labor and property tax reforms, education funding, and of course, the current Illinois state budget stalemate. At the time of this writing, the budget stalemate appears headed for its ninth month, and represents, among other things, a remarkable unwillingness of both sides to resume constructive and meaningful dialogue.
The economic and social progress that’s been made in the Joliet area and other communities across the state, by way of dialogue and cooperation, is under direct threat of being wiped away by state-level officials’ refusal to do the same. It’s deeply perplexing that those that govern our State would choose a path that so severely endangers education, transportation infrastructure, health care, partnership with private enterprise, and all of the other issues that both sides of the aisle recognize as critical to state-wide, long-term prosperity. It is unlikely that we will best secure our state’s future through our elected officials’ unwillingness to discuss it.
Stepping Stones in Joliet is suspending substance use disorder treatment for persons whose services are paid for by the Department of Human Services (DHS). This organization provides addiction treatment and recovery programs through intense residential and outpatient services. Unfortunately, they have not been paid for services provided after July 1, 2015 and reimbursed through general revenue funds administered by DHS or the Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC). The expected loss in this situation is $323,000.
The Will-Grundy Center for Independent Living recently announced the need to reduce staff and institute furlough days in order to save money. Their savings are nearly depleted as they sit and wait for $86,000 from the state. In fact, all twenty two Centers for Independent Living across Illinois have been forced to take similar measures.
Cornerstone Services has been impacted by the budget impasse as they did not receive a $699,000 grant to provide supportive services for formerly homeless individuals and families. In addition, Cornerstone did receive contracts totaling $965,795 to provide mental health services, but they have not received any payment since July 1 for those contracts. Cornerstone has managed through the budget impasse through attrition, delaying maintenance repairs and projects, and utilizing their line of credit.
Senior Services of Will County recently limited office hours, cut salaries by 30 percent, and had to lay off 40 percent of their staff, again due to the budget impasse in the state. Senior Services is waiting on more than $300,000 in state payments since July 1, 2015. Since these measures have been implemented, more than two thousand seniors have seen regular visits vanish from caseworkers.
We haven’t even touched upon the 136,000 plus college students that sit and wait for their MAP grant funds to help offset or cover their education costs. More than 1,000 students were unable to start their second semester this year. In addition, our public Universities in Illinois are in the same boat. They have not received their operating and capital funds from the state this year. Stories are mounting concerning the impending need to consider closing their doors. Joliet Junior College has fronted MAP funds for students that are tied up with the state, but can only proceed on a semester to semester basis.
It is a shame that the youth of our state, just like those in need of state services, will suffer because of an inability for personalities to come together. Unfortunately, we may be past simply saying everybody needs to work together, reach across the aisle. After eight months of rhetoric, we have not seen any change. We have a situation where those who are in dire need of services have been either cut off already or anticipate that the support that allows them to be contributing members of our communities is about to evaporate. Our young adults, the future leaders and decision makers of this state, are in fear of dropping out of college. What message does that send to the next generation needed to run this country?
Service agency and higher education funding are critical issues that are grabbing headlines. We count many local organizations and educational institutions as members. We stand behind them in their time of need.
In addition, we serve one thousand plus businesses that are also weathering the economic storm caused by ineffective leadership. The real underlying issue is that we still do not have any movement on key components of this budget. In order to change the landscape these businesses need certainty and reform quickly. Changes that will speed up economic growth and generate revenue are what our members must have to keep their doors open. Illinois, once a leading state for business innovation due to its resilient and multi-faceted economy, is no longer hospitable to business. The economy in Illinois has lagged behind the national economic recovery with a loss of nearly 800,000 residents over a thirteen year period, and median household income remains in a steady decline. A smaller workforce now has to carry an increasing tax load on their shoulders. In Illinois we see 10 percent of our income go directly to state and local taxing bodies which are spending more than those of us left can earn. This tax burden is higher than the national average.
The business community has had enough of this downward trend. We call on our leadership to roll up their sleeves and ensure that we don’t lose our once proud status as a business friendly state that encouraged an entrepreneurial spirit. We demand our elected officials recall why they ran for office, to set aside grudges, and to start working for those that placed them in leadership. Many have lost (services, jobs, education, etc.), numerous others are on the verge, and nobody can predict the devastation that will truly occur if this stalemate continues.
Partisan opposition and tactical maneuvering are not new elements to the political landscape in Illinois, or the nation. So this begets the question, are the issues Illinois is presently facing any more complex than those of the past, or is the current roster of political participants simply not up to the task? Will this administration and legislature be remembered as those that overcame historic differences, or those that succumbed to them?
Either way, the refusal of both sides to resume discussions is becoming increasingly difficult for the residents, organizations, and businesses of the Joliet area to tolerate.
Representatives of the Joliet Region Chamber of Commerce & Industry