Thursday, March 15, 2012

Unions call for repeal of business tax breaks to stave off closures

By Ashley Griffin 

“Show some guts, not cuts!” and “Quinn says cutback, we say fight back!” were some of the chants from hundreds of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees who protested in front of the Executive Mansion in Springfield Thursday afternoon.

The protest brought together hundreds of caregivers, child protection workers, correctional officers, state police personnel and other state employees who could possibly lose their jobs under Gov. Pat Quinn’s FY 2013 proposed budget. Quinn aims to cut most state agencies’ funding by 9 percent and close several state facilities, including mental health centers and residential centers for the developmentally disabled. But according to some workers, instead of cutting, Quinn should repeal the tax breaks for businesses that was passed last December. According to Jeff Bigelow, a regional director for AFCSME Council 31, repealing the tax cut package would be an “easy way to avoid these cuts.”

“They want to cut the Jacksonville Developmental Center [and] another developmental center,” Bigelow said. “They want to cut mental health centers. They want to cut adult transition centers. They want to cut prisons. They are closing 24 offices where people go apply for food stamps, and Medicaid, putting it further out of reach for people who can’t afford to get there anyway because they don’t have money to put gas in the car. Everything that they are doing is government for the rich and cutting back for the rest of us, and we’re saying they are wrong.”  But the tax breaks, geared at keeping the CME Group and Sears in Illinois, were the product of months of negotiations, and lawmakers are unlikely to repeal them.

Quinn argues that the cuts and closures are necessary and part of an overall plan to trim state costs. “The closures and consolidations proposed in the state budget are hard but necessary,” Kelly Kraft, Quinn’s budget spokeswoman, said in a prepared statement. “They impact every region in our state, but due to decades of fiscal mismanagement, tough decisions need to be made to address the state’s budget challenges, If action to change Medicaid and pensions this legislative session does not take place, more and more services will be reduced or eliminated just to pay these costs. We need to stop being in denial, need to stop delaying payments and need to stop the disinformation campaign in order to resolve our Medicaid and pension challenges and to make certain [that] education, public safety and our most vulnerable are always protected.”

While AFSCME members marched and chanted today, most lawmakers and Quinn were far from Springfield. The legislature is not in session this week, and many lawmakers are presumably doing last-minute campaigning for next week’s primary election. “We wanted to let [the General Assembly] know they are going to hear about it, whether they're here or not. We’ll let them know that people oppose Gov. Quinn’s proposed cuts because they definitely hurt public service,” said Kent Beauchamp, another regional director for AFSCME Council 31. “It's really outrageous that he is making these cuts as a way to pay for the huge tax break that he gave to large corporations in this state. What he’s saying is that ‘My priorities are giving tax breaks to the corporations and not providing services to the public.’ That’s exactly what he is saying.”

Today’s demonstration in the capital was one of 50 protests AFSCME plans to hold statewide.

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