Think tank: State has been shortchanging social services for over a decade
Over the years, Illinois’ budget fiasco has dealt many of the state’s social service providers knockout blows.
Ted Dabrowski, vice president of policy and spokesman for the Illinois Policy Institute, wrote an article on Illinois’ history of financially crippling key social services for the state’s most vulnerable individuals.
“Funding for social services isn’t a problem that arose in 2016 just because Illinois doesn’t have a budget,” Dabrowski wrote. “People dependent on social services have been harmed for more than a decade because the state’s spending priorities haven’t included them. The state’s real priority has been to keep increasing spending on government-worker salaries, benefits and pensions at the expense of nearly everything else.”
The Chicago Daily Herald said the Community Crisis Center in Elgin – an Illinois domestic-abuse program that depends on the state for half of its funding, maxed out its line of credit in 2011 while waiting for state funds, forcing the agency’s employees to take four weeks of unpaid furlough days.
The Huffington Post reported in 2013 that some nonprofit home health care agencies would be forced to close, leaving thousands of elderly citizens to fend for themselves and find alternatives to in-home care due to insufficient government funding.
Dabrowski went on to state that in 2009, Illinois was ranked worst in the nation by an Urban Institute study when it came to paying its nonprofit vendors in a timely fashion.
“Part of the problem is that, even though Illinois was passing annual budgets, politicians were using gimmicks to underfund programs and push off debt into the future, rather than being honest about how much the state could afford,” Dabrowski said in the article. “Beginning in 2002 – a year after Illinois’ last balanced budget – Illinois started the habit of not paying all of its bills the year they were incurred. Since then, the problem has only worsened.”
In fact, by 2010, Illinois had accumulated $8 billion in unpaid bills, Dabrowski said. In an attempt to climb out of the red, former Gov. Pat Quinn and his allies passed an unprecedented income tax hike, generating $31 billion in additional revenue for the state. Quinn assured Illinoisans that the money would be used to completely pay off the state’s unpaid bills by the end of 2015.
Instead, the deficit only decreased by a couple of billion dollars.
By the end of fiscal 2015 on June 30, 2015, the general fund deficit had grown to $6.9 billion from $6.7 billion in fiscal 2014, an annual report by Illinois Auditor General Frank Mautino revealed.
The increased deficit was due to the partial expiration of the temporary income tax hike enacted in 2011, which decreased revenue by $1.8 billion.
“There’s a reason the state has racked up a backlog of unpaid bills and why even $31 billion in additional tax dollars – the new revenues generated from the state’s record income-tax hike from 2011 through 2014 – didn’t improve the situation for social service agencies and other vendors,” Dabrowski wrote. “It’s because the General Assembly, under House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Dist. 22), has done nothing to change the state’s funding priorities. And those priorities favor government-worker pay and benefits over nearly everything else.”
Dabrowski also said that between 2000 and 2015, contributions to state-employee pension funds increased by 586 percent ($6.6 billion) and state-worker health insurance costs were up 166 percent ($1 billion).
In contrast, higher education funding decreased by 8 percent ($175 million); human services, up just 10 percent ($498 million); and K-12 education, up 35 percent ($1.7 billion) during that time period.
“The bottom line is, unless the state significantly changes the way it operates, funding social services will always be a struggle,” Dabrowski stated. “Total expenses will outpace the incomes of Illinois taxpayers, while core spending drivers such as state-employee compensation will crowd out funding for other services.”
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Champaign, IL, United States