Evanston’s state rep. Gabel talks pensions, deficit at town hall meeting

Susan Du

Illinois State Rep. Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston) urged an audience at a town hall meeting Sunday to weigh in on Illinois’ budget deficit, Medicaid cuts, overdue bills and pensions.

The meeting, held at the Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St., was intended to seek constituent input on some of the state’s most pressing issues as well as discuss what Gabel has been working on in Springfield.

About 30 people attended, including Illinois State Rep. Daniel Biss (D-Skokie), who summed up the event at the end of the meeting.

“When people ask me why is the state in such a budgetary challenge, I talk about the three trajectories: Our trajectory of pension costs, our trajectory of Medicaid costs and our revenue trajectory, and they all need to be addressed,” Biss said. “The problem is real. The frustration is legitimate.”

Gabel, who is a part of the Medicaid Reform Committee, worked on passing a bill through the Illinois House of Representatives during late March determining the budgets for education, human services, general services and public safety. Allocating these funds is one of her responsibilities as vice-chair of Appropriations for Human Services.

Gabel said it is important to protect children with health issues and ensure there is sufficient funding for drugs fighting HIV and AIDS.

“It’s an optional service, so anything that is an optional service is in danger (of being cut),” Gabel said.

In addition to Medicaid, the state’s pension crisis was featured in the discussion Sunday. The chronically underfunded pension fund bears a significant strain on the Illinois budget, Biss said. His bill to eradicate the practice of pension double-dipping in public universities recently passed in the House.

“Our budget’s in a lot of trouble, and so people see that a lot of things are going to be cut,” Biss said. “A lot of people here rely on a lot of those programs, and so are concerned on what impact that’s going to have on their lives.”

Evanston resident Lenore Jean-Baptiste said she attended the town hall because she wanted to hear what some of her fellow citizens’ concerns were regarding the state’s budgetary issues. She said Gabel did a good job of hearing out her constituents.

“It was a good thing that people came, and some people seemed like they were really educated about the issues and really passionate,” Jean-Baptiste said. “It was important that they came and presented their opinion to (Gabel). So I think (the town hall) made people feel more comfortable with her.”

Gabel will hold more town halls in other parts of the 18th legislative district in the coming months.

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