Naperville Sun

Candidates discuss state’s disabled

Friday, September 03, 2010

The inability of Springfield to work on anything was a theme when local state representatives discussed how the state was failing its most vulnerable residents Thursday night.

Area representatives and candidates for the Illinois General Assembly addressed a crowd of about 200 residents on issues facing people with disabilities and mental illness in a forum hosted by the DuPage Work Group on Thursday at the Naperville Municipal Center.

"Our purpose this evening is to give an opportunity to those candidates running for office in DuPage County (to speak) on issues related to disability services and those who use those services," said Steve Boisse of PACT Inc.

Candidates were asked how they would handle the state's significant budget issues and continue to provide human services, but conversation turned largely to the dysfunction in Springfield in general.

"It's shameful that the state has resorted to balancing the budget on the back of its most vulnerable," said Barbara Green, candidate for the 48th District, who discussed auditing state expenditures and renegotiating contracts as ways to find more funding for human services.

The failure of the state to meet its obligations to those with disabilities and mental illness was an opinion shared by the panel.

Each acknowledged cuts to service programs, late payments to service providers, and long wait lists for those in need, but solutions on how to fix the problems fell largely along party lines of cutting waste and increasing taxes.

Both Reps. Mike Connelly, R-Lisle, and Darlene Senger, R-Naperville, argued that being Republicans in the Democrat-majority Illinois House of Representatives stalled their work on cutting waste in the state budget.

"We're not given the chance to bring those solutions forth," said Senger, who placed blame on the Democratic majority led by Speaker Michael Madigan. Connelly lamented the death of numerous bills in the Rules Committee.

"Both parties need to cross the aisle and work together on these issues to try to get the help for you and your loved ones," said Dawn DeSart, candidate for the 96th District and current school board member in Indian Prairie School District 204.

DeSart advocated for cutting waste through increased government transparency and a moratorium on expanding government programs until the state's debts are repaid.

Perhaps the most popular comment of the night came from Maria Owens, candidate for the 95th District to the north of Naperville, and a former teacher in District 203.

"If you want people to work together in Springfield, you need to hire ex-kindergarten teachers," Owens said. "I've settled more squabbles than I can remember."

Owens also advocated cutting waste, increasing revenue, and putting human services at the top of Illinois' priority list.