[Cross-posted at WurfWhile.com.]
Recently there has been discussion in local newspapers and blogs about DuPage non-profit organizations advocating a cigarette tax among other solutions to the county budget cuts and deficit. I understand why the non-profits are doing it - and I don't blame them. Faced with elimination, like the University of Illinois Extension in DuPage that provides necessary pesticide information as well as serves an integral part of the 4-H program that over 400 DuPage kids participate in, or the massive 60% cut to not-for-profit community service grants, or the cutting in half of Access DuPage funds providing critical health care to uninsured DuPage residents who can't get it elsewhere - faced with cuts like these, non-profits would be irresponsible not to advocate a preferred tax increase by the DuPage County Board they depend on for their funding.
But what is responsible for non-profits facing draconian cuts that will devastate members of the DuPage community they serve, is totally irresponsible for the all-Republican DuPage County Board, which got us into this fiscal mess, and which seeks an easy out through "sin taxes" and expanding budgets instead of better prioritizing budget spending. The County Board's penny-wise, pound-foolish effort doesn't pass even rudimentary scrutiny.
First, the cuts they're making to non-profit and social service groups do not even begin to substantially plug the holes in their half-billion dollar budget with a roughly $50 million shortfall over the next two years accord to today's Daily Herald.
Second, the cost of the cuts exceeds their savings. Here are two examples:
Access DuPage is a partnership of DuPage area hospitals, physician and social service groups and county government started in 2001 that served 11,700 low-income, medically uninsured residents in DuPage County in its first three years. In 2004 hospitals and doctors donated over $12.7 million in care. Yes, that's right, DuPage County's $350,000 leverages over $12 million - but the county board plans to cut that in half to $175,000. With the number of uninsured people rising, it is likely we need more access to health care in DuPage, not less. Cut back on Access DuPage's low-cost care (including preventative care) and the low-income people Access DuPage serves will end up in local hospital emergency rooms for medical conditions that could have been treated much more cheaply earlier. The DuPage families, employers and others that depend on them will suffer too.
University of Illinois Extension
The University of Illinois Extension agricultural program, something some DuPage residents many not be aware of, is an incredible deal that more than pays for itself. Over 400 plus kids in 4-H require the Extension program for 4-H to exist - but even without 4-H programing, the extension is critical to DuPage - and a bargain at $100,000 a year.
The emerald ash borer, a beetle that kills ash trees, is one of the terrible pests that the U of I Extension in DuPage is mobilizing against to prevent local devastation. What kind of damage could this beetle, that has destroyed 20 million ash trees in the Midwest since 2002, do in DuPage? According to the Illinois Department of Natural Resources a lot! Here's what it could do to Woodridge, a single relatively small part of DuPage,
"In 1996, Woodridge, IL (a 15 year Tree City USA community) received a grant for IDNR to conduct an inventory of their community forest. Based on the results of this inventory, this Illinois medium sized community (population 33,000) had a tree population of approx. 8,000 public trees. At the time of the tree inventory 25% of the public trees were ash. Therefore, if the Emerald Ash Borer were to infect all of the public-owned ash trees, Woodridge would loses [sic] 2000 trees. According to the survey the majority of the ash trees are now from 8- 18 inches with an average size of 12 inches. Using an estimated average for tree removal cost of $500 per tree to remove all ash trees, the potential cost for removing all ash trees in Woodridge would be: $1,000,000. Using the Northern Illinois tree replacement (purchase and planting) price of $400 per 3 inch diameter tree, it would cost an additional $800,000 to implement a tree for tree replacement policy. Therefore, EAB could cost Woodridge [an] estimated $1.8 million to remove and replace all public-owned ash trees should they become infected.
Suburbs and DuPage County Public Spaces were inventoried. According to 'Urban Forest Structure: The State of Chicago’s Urban Forest' by David J. Nowak, USDA Forest Service, in NE Illinois Cook and DuPage County suburbs there are 4,132,100 ash trees planted. If tree removal and replacement costs combined are $800 then the estimated cost to Illinois suburban communities would be: $3,305,680,000 or over $3 billion."
So, for DuPage County's $100,000 in funding of the Extension we get
- $100,000 in matching state funding
- $750,000 in services that includes
-> Horticultural industry support for local businesses and residents
-> after school and summer programs for at-risk youth; and
-> numerous education programs in nutrition and other areas for over 25,000 young people and adults.
- 4-H programming
- Protection against millions or billions of dollars of damage to DuPage ash trees
The DuPage County Board found room enough in the budget to increase their salaries this year. It's time they start really earning the money. They can start by noticing that you really don't save money by cutting relatively small programs that leverage tax dollars to provide many times their money's worth.
I'm not a smoker and am not an apologist for smoking - but given the Republican County Board's history of spending new found taxpayer money instead of controlling budgets, it seems unlikely that taxing the declining number of smokers is much of a solution. It's time to look outside of cutting the small, underfunded county social service programs and on to bigger issues in the budget. Until they do that, all the County Board is doing is using smoke and mirrors to avoid real spending problems. DuPage residents, and the non-profits that serve them, deserve better.
Thursday, November 16, 2006
[Cross-posted at WurfWhile.com.]