Quick Hit Op-Ed Monday May 23rd, 2016, 12:28pm

Op-Ed: Illinois Budget Impasse Is More Than A Political Standoff, It Is An Act Of Violence

The following is written by Maxx Boykin and Abbas Hyderi.

When we think of violence our thoughts may turn to top-of-the-news headlines: war, terrorist bombings, mass shootings, homicides, and police brutality. But there is a prolonged act of violence leaving thousands of casualties in its wake that should be added to the list: the state budget impasse.

You see, the inability--for nearly a year now--of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democrats who control the General Assembly to pass a budget is more than a political standoff. It is what Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung described in the 1960s as "structural violence," in which social institutions systemically harm people by preventing them from meeting their basic needs and reaching their full potential.

The word "violence" often conjures images of physical force, but Galtung used it to describe the social structures--economic, political, legal, religious, and cultural--that order our world. These structures turn violent, Galtung explained, when they cause injury to people by lowering "the actual degree to which someone is able to meet their needs below that which would otherwise be possible."

Institutionalized racism, sexism and ageism are just a few examples of structural violence. But we don't have to look too far for more.

By June--assuming a budget deal isn't reached this legislative session--Illinois will have gone nearly a year without a budget in place since the July 1 start of the state fiscal year. This budget stalemate is devastating the social service sector, leaving a trail of human suffering as it rips holes in the safety net for the state's most vulnerable citizens.

In January, Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, the largest statewide provider of social services, announced program closures and staff cuts due to the state's inability to pay its bills. In all, more than 30 programs closed, and more than 750 positions were eliminated--43 percent of the agency's total employees. These closures mean that nearly 4,700 people may no longer receive vital services, including seniors who need home care.

Two months later, Voices for Illinois Children released a report that found failure to pass a fully funded, year-long budget is obstructing the operations of critical programs and services, from children's health programs to senior care to workforce development. Service providers are struggling to operate without state contracts and have not been reimbursed during this fiscal fiasco.

And we have seen higher education take a huge hit even after bipartisan passage in April of $600 million in emergency funding for public universities and community colleges. Unfortunately, the funding arrived too late for Chicago State University, an institution with a predominantly minority enrollment. CSU had to lay off more than 300 non-faculty employees even with an infusion of $20.1 million. As it turned out, the funding package represented only 34 percent of the $1.7 billion that Democrats originally earmarked for higher education spending this fiscal year.

Meanwhile the inaction in Springfield continues, undermining programs like the Pediatric AIDS Chicago Prevention Initiative (PACPI), which operates a statewide safety net of prevention to ensure that pregnant women with HIV deliver HIV-negative babies. The 16-year-old program will have to close its doors by the end of the year if the state fails to restore $500,000 in funding. The result could very well be an increase in the number of babies in Illinois born with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Many HIV activists, service organization leaders and medical professionals are disappointed and angry by this lack of commitment to ending AIDS in a state where an estimated 43,500 Illinoisans are living with HIV. Their discontent may linger.

It has been reported the state budget impasse could extend past November elections for General Assembly members. If it does, we can expect this season of state sanctioned violence--much like the "summer of violence" that annually grips Chicago--to rake up more casualties in the form of premature death, unnecessary disability and deferred dreams.

It is now well past time that the governor and the General Assembly come together to pass a budget for fiscal years 2016 and 2017, to ensure that Illinoisans most in need are able to count on the essential services they require. The Responsible Budget Coalition, a diverse coalition of about 200 organizations, has called on Rauner to remove non-budget items from the state budget process (i.e., his "turnaround agenda" that includes union-weakening provisions) and for the legislature to identify tax funding to replace the temporary income tax increase that expired Jan. 1, 2015.

Compromise is a small price to pay to end the toll inaction is taking on human life.

Stop the violence. Pass a budget that restores the quality of life for Illinoisans, not one that cuts it short.

Maxx Boykin is a community organizer with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) and Black Youth Project 100. Abbas Hyderi, MD, MPH, is an AFC board member and associate professor of clinical family medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine.

Comments

The high taxes cost by the night spending in Illinois is also an act of violence.  If the state didn't spend so much money on social programs then taxes could be lower and a BALANCED budget would be easier to do.

 

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