CHICAGO - "Illinois is broke. Failure to act will cause obscene and immoral cuts in aid to education and human services. Shame on every elected official who refuses to lead us through this terrible crisis," warned Maria Whelan, director of Illinois Action for Children.
Whelan joined 245 other women leaders representing civic, political, trade union, religious and advocacy organizations March 15 who jointly issued a call for urgent budget and tax reform to avoid catastrophic cuts to human services and massive layoffs across the state.
Illinois faces a $13.8 billion deficit brought on by the economic crisis and one of the most regressive tax systems in the nation.
The leaders were marking Women's History Month by sending a letter to Gov. Quinn and the state legislative demanding action. They were specifically responding to Gov. Pat Quinn's budget proposal, which includes $2 billion in spending cuts, including $1.2 billion in cuts to primary and secondary education.
Quinn called for an across the board tax rate hike of 1% to cover the education cuts, which he said would result in the layoff of 17,000 teachers. Quinn also proposed nearly $5 billion in borrowing to cover the budget gap, which he termed a crisis of "epic proportions."
"We can no longer wait," said Kathy Ryg of Voices for Illinois Children. "We have come to agree on the size of the problem - the state has a $7.5 billion revenue shortfall and over $6 billion in unpaid bills - and a framework for dealing with it."
The women leaders reiterated the cuts would devastate the most vulnerable populations especially seniors, the disabled, the poor and single parent families. These service cuts and the thousands of workers who labor long hours at often times low pay will disproportionately impact women.
Nancy Shier of the Ounce of Prevention Fund noted the ongoing budget crisis and non-payment of bills is already having a huge impact. Early education programs across the state have received no funding since October and many have shut down mid-year. Layoff notices are already being sent for next year's programs. The budget will cut 40% from mental health programs.
The women and their organizations belong to the Responsible Budget Coalition, a statewide alliance of labor, human service, religious and community organizations who are supporting budget and tax reform and have united around passage of HB 174 that would raise the personal and corporate tax rate while raising the earned income tax credit to protect low income workers.
Since 2010 is an election year, Democratic legislative leaders are fearful of enacting a tax increase without Republican support.
The Republican candidate for governor, Bill Brady, has called for a 10% across the board budget cut and cuts in taxes. This proposal has been widely criticized, including by many in his own party.
Rich Whitney, Green Party candidate for governor, has proposed progressive tax reform he says will bring in $16 billion a year. Whitney's plan would increase tax rates but would also provide greater protections to workers and low-income families through the creation of a Family Tax credit and by tripling the Earned Income Tax Credit. It also includes a "financial transaction tax" on speculative trading.
"The human costs will be tremendous if we fail to act," said Anne Ladky, executive director of Women Employed, one of the signers of the call. "We are talking about destroying an infrastructure of human services, early education, and higher education that will put this state at an economic disadvantage for decades to come."
"This gathering is the tip of a mighty iceberg moving toward Springfield. We will not be silent, we will be heard," said Whelan.
Photo: Anne Ladky of Women Employed joins with other women to issue a call for urgent action on the state budget crisis. John Bachtell/PW