Giant Statehouse rally calls for tax increase
By Brian Feldt and Matt Hopf
Nellie Logan says she’s is at a breaking point.
Her granddaughter is at risk of being denied a preschool education. Her daughter can’t find a willing doctor and is struggling under the Medicaid program.
And a client of Logan’s at Addus HealthCare in Springfield, which provides in-home services for special needs people, has just suffered a sharp reduction in the number of service hours she can receive.
Logan wasn’t alone in her concerns Wednesday. As many as 15,000 people turned out at the Statehouse for a rally organized by a collection of education, social service and state worker groups calling itself the Responsible Budget Coalition.
The coalition’s “Save Our State” rally aimed to pressure Illinois lawmakers to approve a tax increase and avert major budget cuts this spring.
“(Lawmakers) might wait till November, but that is going to be too late,” Logan said. “I mean, there are people hurting right now. The 200 different groups that were all here today, we are all hurt. There are viable programs that need to be funded. But they are going to cut. Where else are they going to cut?”
The question is whether lawmakers were listening.
The rally featured more than 200 interest groups. Dave Druker, a spokesman for Secretary of State Jesse White, said officials estimated 15,000 people participated -- 12,000 who participated in the marches and another 3,000 who were otherwise present.
Participants, who marched around the Capitol complex after hearing from a series of speakers, were instructed to make coordinated cell phone calls to flood legislators’ offices, and they several times turned to the Statehouse and shouted slogans such as, “Show some guts, stop the cuts.”
Wearing brightly colored pink, green, blue and purple T-shirts, most participants also carried signs with slogans such as “Cut the bull, not the budget” and “Responsible budget: don’t come home without it.”
Carla Janssen, president of the union that represents Rockford Public Library employees, said the Rockford library system has already laid off more than 20 employees and reduced hours. Any more cuts could slash the most basic of library services, she said.
“We took a wage freeze and negotiated unheard-of settlements in order to preserve as many jobs as we could within the union,” she said. “This is a bad enough time as it is and people are more reliant on services the government and state offer than any other time.
“We see that in the library because people can’t afford the bookstores or movie rentals and they are depending on us for their Internet use. When you cut those services, you are hurting citizens.”
Gov. Pat Quinn said Tuesday he hoped the rally would push lawmakers to vote on his proposed tax increase, which would go towards funding education. However, rally participants’ efforts also could easily go nowhere.
Lawmakers in both parties think meaningful movement on a budget solution probably won’t take place until after the general election in November.
“It’s always good that people come to Springfield to make their interests and feelings known,” said state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria. “What I’m hearing in the state Capitol is that it’s going to be pretty tough to see a tax increase before the November election. I think the earliest would be in the fall veto session.”
“We got a lot of things to do before guys like me would be interested, and once they do, then I’ll be interested in a temporary tax,” said state Rep. Raymond Poe, R-Springfield.
Sen. Larry Bomke, R-Springfield, said the key to a breakthrough will involve more than taxes.
“If folks came down here thinking we were going to tax our way out of this, that’s just not going to happen. If folks came here thinking there might be a modest tax increase with cuts, then that is a possibility,” Bomke said.
Despite the uphill battle, members of the coalition said they will continue to push their agenda.
Henry Bayer, director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, likened the coalition’s efforts to Muhammad Ali when he said, “You can run, but you can’t hide.”
“We are going to be there this afternoon, and we are going to find you (lawmakers),” Bayer told the crowd while pointing at the Capitol. “And if you try to leave town without doing your job, we are going to chase you. And when you come back home, we will be there.
“We will keep delivering this message till the job is done … until there is a responsible budget.”