PI Original Angela Caputo Tuesday November 24th, 2009, 2:12pm

Our Starving Human Services

In their opposition to raising the state income tax, conservatives love to talk about Illinois' "bloated" government.  Of course, they conveniently overlook the fact that we are one of the lowest spending states nationwide and that we are ranked near dead last in the ...

In their opposition to raising the state income tax, conservatives love to talk about Illinois' "bloated" government.  Of course, they conveniently overlook the fact that we are one of the lowest spending states nationwide and that we are ranked near dead last in the country for our investment in education (PDF). In a new "fact sheet," the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA) highlights yet another area of lean state spending: human services.

When we refer to human services, we're talking about programs that range from counseling for abused children to treatment for the mentally ill to care for the developmentally disabled. CTBA's snapshot of state spending in this area (from 2002 to 2010) provides the latest evidence of how shamefully low on the priority list theses services have ranked -- even back when revenues were booming.

Overall spending on Children and Family Services, for example, fell from $925 million in 2002 to $857 million in 2010. More broadly, overall human services spending has hovered around $3.9 billion for nearly a decade. As CTBA explains, when you factor in inflation and population growth, it's clear that the state has actually cut way back:

These Figures show that from FY 2003 to FY 2010, Illinois cut human services funding by an average of $385.1 million per year in real, inflation adjusted terms. In other words, human services would have received $ 3.1 [billion] more funding from the state General Fund over this period had appropriations just kept up with inflation after FY2002.  Put another way, in real terms Illinois is spending significantly less on human services today than it did eight years ago.

Consider this: in 2002, Illinois failed to meet even half of the national average on mental health care.

Then in 2004, 75 percent of all spending for developmentally disabled services went toward institutional care. We've seen how that's played out as a growing number of local nursing homes have become dumping grounds for the mentally ill.

As we've noted before, the Illinois Bureau of Economic Analysis found that between 1997 and 2007 (the most recent year for which data was available) state spending as a percentage of GDP increased by just five one‐hundredths of one percent -- from 3.35 to 3.4 percent. The biggest spending gains have been in health care, pensions, and education, all of which hold federal matching fund requirements.  Meanwhile, human services have been hung out to dry.

CTBA's latest research reaffirms a simple point. It's not overspending that's put Illinois on dangerous financial ground. It's our regressive, antiquated tax policy.

We'll post the entire fact sheet when CTBA releases it publicly.

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