Walter Blumenshine of Peoria believes Gov. Pat Quinn should "wake up" and find ways to save essential state programs, not slash them. Mental health, education and labor organizations echoed concerns about proposed cuts to essential state programs during a string of Capitol news conferences Thursday.
Walter Blumenshine of Peoria believes Gov. Pat Quinn should "wake up" and find ways to save essential state programs, not slash them.
Blumenshine, who suffers from bipolar disorder, said he suffered a mental breakdown that landed him in prison for several years. He now works as a peer leader for GROW in Illinois, a mental health support group that helped him recover after his release.
Blumenshine said he is worried that cutting the program will reduce services for him and thousands of residents suffering from mental illnesses statewide.
Mental health, education and labor organizations echoed concerns about proposed cuts to essential state programs during a string of Capitol news conferences Thursday.
The message followed Wednesday's rally at the State Capitol, where nearly 15,000 protesters demanded that lawmakers raise taxes to keep state programs intact.
But with some lawmakers staunchly opposed to tax increases and a looming election in November, it's unsure whether they will heed those demands.
Senate Republicans continued their complaints Thursday that Quinn is relying too much on tax hikes and borrowing to close the budget deficit and not enough on spending cuts.
Sen. Matt Murphy, R-Palatine, said that a further analysis of Quinn's latest budget proposal shows the governor plans on only $200 million in budget cuts, not the $2.6 billion claimed by Quinn. They contend Quinn is adding $2.4 billion in spending that offsets the cuts.
At the same time, Quinn still wants to raise the income tax, hike several smaller taxes and embark on a couple of new borrowing schemes, they said.
"This is a tax and borrowing scheme," Murphy said.
Community Behavioral Healthcare Association of Illinois CEO Frank Anselmo criticized Quinn's proposed cuts to mental health services. He said the cuts would get rid of mental health services for more than 72,000 people.
"This is budget madness," Anselmo said. "This budget will not work."
Greg Sullivan with the Illinois Sheriffs Association said cutting those programs could result in more mentally ill people being jailed.
"That is not where they belong," he said. "We don't have the space or the education and staff to deal with those problems any more than we can."
Sullivan said 16 percent of inmates statewide require mental health services. He said the state's proposed cuts could double that amount.
Rep. Esther Golar, D-Chicago, said a tax increase is the "only option" for the state to dig its way out of the budget mess.
"It may look bleak, but we will continue to fight," she said.
Golar urged lawmakers to support House Bill 5326, which would allow people with mental illnesses to live in a community setting, instead of being institutionalized. The bill now is stalled in the House.
After the event, the group dropped off petitions with 10,000 signatures at Quinn's office and the offices of the four legislative leaders.
School and labor officials
Labor officials and school superintendents spoke next, urging Quinn to reconsider major cuts to local school districts.
Brent Clark, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Administrators, said Quinn's proposed education cuts of $1.3 billion would "dismantle our schools."
"We need (lawmakers) to do something other than go home May 7," he said.
Steve Preckwinkle with the Illinois Federation of Teachers said education cuts would also make it harder for college graduates to get jobs.
"We have adults who need to retool their skills for new jobs," he said. "If we are cutting (that) funding, we're further damaging Illinois' ability to recover effectively from this economic crisis."
Clark said he believes the state can approve the tax increases outlined in House Bill 174, if a vote happens in the House.
"I don't think it's impossible if we can get the bill called," he said.
Springfield Public School Superintendent Walter Milton Jr. said the proposed cuts would increase the average classroom size from the lower 20s to nearly 30 students.
MAP grant restoration
Student leaders from public and private universities statewide asked lawmakers to find ways to restore money to the Monetary Award, or MAP, program.
Dimitra Georgouses, a student at Roosevelt University, said the grants help "invest in our state's future" and "strengthen Illinois' standing in the global economy."
An estimated 220,000 students who are eligible for MAP grants could be affected if the funding is not restored, advocates warned.
A jar of pennies representing the nearly 8,000 students at Roosevelt University was delivered to Quinn's office following the event.
Staff Writer Doug Finke contributed to this report. John Guidroz can be reached at John.email@example.com.