State Sen. Daniel Biss moderates community discussion on impacts of no state budget


Daniel Tian/Daily Senior Staffer

Mark Weiner, president and CEO of CJE SeniorLife, speaks at a panel about the state budget Tuesday night. Weiner said many nonprofits, including his own, have already closed or may close because of the budget stalemate.

Renzo Downey, Reporter

Community leaders discussed the impacts of the state budget impasse on public services, higher education and the state economy, during a panel hosted by state Sen. Daniel Biss (D-Evanston) on Tuesday night.

Community members packed into chairs and squeezed against the walls in the Lorraine H. Morton Civic Center as they listened to the panelists: Bill Stafford, vice-chair of Oakton Community College and CFO of Evanston Township High School; Kellogg Prof. Therese McGuire; and Mark Weiner, president and CEO of CJE SeniorLife, a Jewish nonprofit offering services to seniors.

“I’m a little gobsmacked by this attendance,” Biss said. “It tells me something that I don’t think my colleagues and our governor are hearing.”

The state, which has been operating without a budget since July 1, has not provided full funding for public services such as mental health and domestic violence services. One estimate made in February said the state’s deficit for the current fiscal year is $6.6 billion, McGuire said.

“The evidence appears to be growing that fiscal policy uncertainty can be harmful to the economy by making businesses cautious to invest, consumers unwilling to make purchases and financial institutions unwilling to lend,” she said.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed a bill Monday allocating $600 million to partially fund higher education. As a result, Chicago State University — which almost closed early due to the lack of funding — will remain open. Illinois schools will receive about one-third of what they normally receive as a result of the bill, Biss said.

In total, Illinois schools were expecting to receive nearly $2 billion through the state budget and Monetary Award Program grants this fiscal year, Biss said.

MAP, a program which provides aid to low-income and middle-income students from Illinois who attend higher education institutions in the state, has gone unfunded this fiscal year, Stafford said. South of Interstate 80, 10,000 community college students had to drop out because they didn’t receive their MAP grants, he said.

One third of the grants go to community colleges, Stafford said. Additionally, he said 60 percent of students who receive the grants are people of color, and 60 percent of the students are from families whose annual income is considered low enough by the federal government that they should not have to pay for higher education.

Stafford said Oakton Community College’s budget was reduced to $500,000 this fiscal year from the $1.4 million the year before, a reduction that has forced the school to cut back on instructional costs for classes, tutoring costs and the number of class locations.

The impasse has also hurt other services in the Evanston area, the panelists said.

Weiner said his organization, CJE SeniorLife, can only last one more month before shutting down, after surviving nearly 300 days without state funding. If the organization is shut down, they run the risk of losing some of their most valued staff, who might not return even if funding is restored, Weiner said.

Consequences will also include the loss of other cultural and faith-based nonprofit organizations, and a reduced quality of life for the elderly, Weiner said.

Biss said many people are unaware of the extent of the damage the budget crisis has caused the state.

“(The public hasn’t) really grappled with it, unless they have a junior or a senior in ETHS, what it means for a state to tell its best and brightest, ‘If you know what’s good for you, you better go somewhere else,’” Biss said.

All three panelists spoke on not just the quantitative consequences but the ethics of letting public institutions and organizations close. [reporters notes]

“Our request to the state government: please pass a budget,” Weiner said. “Let us be your partners.”

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