Frustrated by years of gridlock and bad decisions in Springfield, a panel of experts said Thursday that local governments, nonprofits, and business leaders may need to go their own way and rebuild their starved social service network using community resources.
The panel spoke at GLT’s State Budget: The Challenges Ahead event at the Normal Theater, produced in partnership with NPR Illinois and AARP Illinois. The Illinois Issues Forum was broadcast live on GLT and streamed on Facebook Live. It will be rebroadcast Friday at noon on 89.1 FM and WGLT.org.
Moderated by GLT’s Charlie Schlenker, the panel began by chronicling all the ways that the two-year budget stalemate eroded local schools, colleges, and social service agencies.
Cheryl Gaines, a former Normal Town Council member who runs the counseling service Collaborative Solutions Institute, said she’s had to lay off staff and make other changes.
“We’re trying to stay above water. I’m trying to stay above water,” Gaines said. “When we talk about the psyche, it’s hard for any providers who are already subject to some vicarious trauma in the work they do, also having to add this kind of trauma and worry to it.”
The panel also expressed deep worry even after the budget deal reached last month, and encouraging signs this week about the end of the school funding stalemate. The state’s $130 billion unfunded pension obligation is something lawmakers can't seem to tackle, and Normal City Manager Mark Peterson says that’s a big a problem.
“For every household in Illinois, that’s $28,000. So if we were going to cover that, every household would write a check for $28,000. That is a staggering number. That is a terrifying number, and we aren’t even talking about it right now,” Peterson said.
While reluctant to “let the state off the hook,” the panelists said community leaders may need to meet their own needs rather than waiting for Springfield. An example of this, they said, is recent progress made on mental health issues in McLean County.
Something similar may be necessary for senior services, they said.
Watch and listen to the full State Budget: Challenges Ahead event below:
The crowd shared their reactions using the official hashtag #GLTLive. Here are some of our favorite tweets, photos, and posts from Thursday night:
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