Quick Hit Ashlee Rezin Monday August 24th, 2015, 7:20pm

'Moral Monday' Activists Protest Against State Budget Impasse, Block Traffic On Michigan Avenue (VIDEO)

Nearly two dozen protesters upset over the state budget stalemate were ticketed Monday morning for blocking traffic on Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago.

The "Moral Monday" demonstration brought over 100 protesters with Fair Economy Illinois, a group that supports "fair-share" state revenue options over deep budget cuts, to the street outside the investment firm 7wire Ventures.

Glen Tullman, the investment firm's co-founder and managing partner, donated to Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner's campaign. Between March 2013 and October 2014, Tullman contributed $280,300 to Citizens for Rauner, Inc. He has also donated to Democrats in the past, including Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and former Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, according to state records.

Chanting "Rauner, Rauner, can't you see? Human need beats corporate greed," 20 protesters blocked traffic for about 20 minutes at Michigan Avenue and Illinois Street on the Magnificent Mile. They refused to disperse despite police orders and were issued citations for blocking the roadway, according to Chicago police.

"We are here to speak out against Gov. Rauner's inhumane budget cuts and our leaders in Springfield's unwillingness to propose any real and long-term revenue solutions that would end the crisis in Illinois once and for all," said Thomas Spano, a Jane Addams Senior Caucus member who participated in Monday's protest but not the civil disobedience.

"Our democracy is being bought by corporations and the 1 percent who pay off politicians to keep taxes low and to keep us, the regular people of Illinois, shouldering the burden of our financial problems," he said. "Now that ain't right."

The state faces a $6 billion budget deficit in the current fiscal year, due in part to the rollback of the 2011 temporary income tax hike. Democrats want to see that budget hole closed with a combination of cuts and new revenues. Rauner -- whose fiscal plan calls for no new revenues and proposes deep cuts to a range of programs and services -- vetoed most of the budget passed by state legislators due to its $4 billion shortfall.

While Democratic leaders in the Illinois General Assembly and the governor continue their standoff, the state entered the 2016 fiscal year on July 1 without a spending plan. Rauner did sign a budget bill for K-12 and early childhood education.

Jessie Avraham, also with the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, said she depends on the Senior Ride Free program, which could be impacted if Rauner gets his way on transportation funding.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra and Pace face combined cuts of nearly $170 million under Rauner's budget proposal. The CTA alone would see a cutback of about $130 million, according to the Regional Transportation Authority.

"I'm an active senior. I go everywhere," Avraham said. "It's hard enough living on a fixed income, taking away the free ride program (would be) unconscionable."

Meanwhile, a program that helps seniors live independently is being impacted by the budget impasse. According to Fair Economy Illinois, the state's Department on Aging recently notified home care agencies that it will be unable to pay them for Community Care Program (CCP) services until a state budget is adopted. CCP helps over 86,000 senior citizens in Illinois live independently.

Rauner has also proposed changing CCP's eligibility requirements, a move activists say could result in at least 36,000 seniors losing assistance. 

"This is a moral issue," Avraham said. "How do you take away home care from people so they end up going into a nursing home? How do you take away transportation from people who depend on it?"

Here is more from Avraham plus other scenes from Monday's protest:

State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), who stood in solidarity with the protesters, described the atmosphere in Springfield as "angry."

"I'm here to support a responsible budget," Harris said. "When I was brought up I was always taught that everyone needs to pay their fair share and folks are suffering now. They're losing child care, seniors are losing services, people with disabilities are not getting the care they need, because corporations are not paying their fair share."

To avert the budget cuts, Harris called for revenue solutions such as a graduated income tax, a sales tax on financial services, a tax on millionaires and the closure of corporate tax "loopholes."

"I would say our most important job is to give certainty to the citizens of Illinois, pass a budget and fund essential services," Harris said, adding that he could not predict an end to the budget impasse because "at this point all we're doing is lather, rinse, repeat and it's not helping anybody."

Sister Gwen Farry, 80, of the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, was one of the 20 protesters who received a citation for participating in the civil disobedience.

Farry said she saw the protest as an opportunity to "speak for those who do not have the voice to speak for themselves."

"We need to increase revenue by taxing those who can afford it and not putting the burden on those who can't," she stressed.


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