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New Year's Resolution? "Real" Illinois Budget Reform

December 28, 2009

CHICAGO - Those who provide services to the state's poorest residents say they would like to see one New Year's resolution from Illinois lawmakers: some sort of stable funding. That's a tall order, with Illinois rated by the Pew Center for States as one of the 10 states in the worst financial shape in the nation.

The Reverend Dr. Denver Bitner, president of Lutheran Social Services of Illinois, says the state budget crunch has left his agency very close to the edge at the end of 2009, digging into emergency funds and maxing out its lines of credit. He says it was "agonizing" to even consider closing programs, when half the people served make under $5,000 a year.

"These are not folks to whom you can just say, 'Well, I can't - I can't help you today,' because their lives are literally on the line."

Bitner says all agencies are suffering, and there's not much left to cut in 2010.

"Where we're starting at is so below what we were before. It is a system issue. It's not just us."

Bitner understands why people say government can't do everything, but he says Illinois lawmakers have a responsibility to help neglected and abused children and those people marginalized by poverty.

"There are some things that the government is charged to do: to care for the most vulnerable in our community."

Bitner is hoping for a responsible budget from Springfield next year, a budget that involves three things, he says: "Better planning, better funding and more stable funding."

They will only happen with tax and budget reform in Illinois, he adds.

More information is available at www.lssi.org.

Mary Anne Meyers, Public News Service - IL