Panel of six legislators meet at PARC to discuss state’s potential cuts
Published June 26 in the Peoria Journal Star
Michelle Cain has a lot at stake.
She has a full-time job at Walmart, a home in Peoria and a personal assistant.
She also has cerebral palsy.
The personal assistant helps Cain eat, get dressed and manage other daily tasks. Last year, the program that funds her PA was almost cut.
A year later, Gov. Pat Quinn faces a decision that could affect Cain’s life and the lives of thousands of others in Illinois living with disabilities.
Quinn has been given the responsibility of deciding whether to cut funding for services to disabled people, seniors and others in the community.
Legislators assembled Saturday at PARC in North Peoria for a Disability Legislative Forum, where addressed were possible budget cuts and their long-term effects on the community and state finances.
A panel of six participated in the discussion, including State Sen. Dale Risinger, R-Peoria, and State Reps. David Leitch, R-Peoria, Mike Smith, D-Canton, and Jehan Gordon, D-Peoria.
Also present were Mike Unes, an East Peoria city councilman who is challenging Smith in the November election, and Jim Montelongo, an at-large member of the Peoria City Council who is running against Gordon for a seat in the General Assembly.
Cain spoke at the forum, explaining the importance of programs for those with learning and physical disabilities.
“If we don’t speak up for ourselves, who is?” Cain said afterward.
Panelists were each given the chance to answer questions about budget cuts, underfunding and future plans for Illinois.
“They made it clear that common sense says that you don’t cut the most susceptible people,” said Kim Cornwell, the chief operating officer of PARC.
Leitch has served on the human services appropriation committee for the majority of his 24 years in the General Assembly.
“I think it’s absolutely ludicrous that state employees were given $336 million in pay raises while people serving developmentally disabled struggle to keep their doors open,” Leitch said.
“This is all upside down. Why is the state feeding itself at the expense of the community of people whom the state is supposed to be serving?”
One statistic that was often cited was the cost of housing someone in a state-run institution ($146,000 a year) is almost three times more than housing that individual in a living community ($50,000).
Jim Runyon, the grants team leader and writer for PARC, believes the issue needs to go beyond the local level.
“One of the real problems, and I heard it several times today, was that they all know what the right thing to do is, they just need to maybe tell their own leadership, be it the Republican leadership or the Democratic leadership,” Runyon said.
Cornwell believes election season has put much of this responsibility on the governor rather than others in government.
She contends many legislators do not want to be held responsible for cutting these programs and are leaving it up to Quinn to handle.
“It’s funny that they all say, ‘They did this, they did this,’ but it’s like, you know, you are ‘They.’ They always seem to distance themselves when they get on a roll.”