Social service agencies confront candidates in Kane County

Friday, September 17, 2010

A meeting of more than 20 social service agencies - and even more local, county and state political candidates - provided about 400 senior citizens and people with disabilities with several ideas for how to solve a funding debacle those agencies say has caused people to commit suicide.

The forum Thursday night in St. Charles started with a message to incumbents and their would-be replacements that at least two people have killed themselves in the local area since July as a direct result of funding cuts for mental health programs.

The agencies, including the DayOne Network, Voices for Illinois Children and the Fox Valley Special Recreation Association, say a 51 percent decline in charitable contributions this year, a loss of millions in state funds, and a 78 percent increase in demand for services has created a crisis.

The agencies wanted to know what local politicians were going to do about it, and about a third of the incumbents invited to provide answers didn't even show up.

Among those absent included state Reps. Mike Noland and Keith Farnham, State Sen. John Millner and every candidate for the 14th Congressional District except Green Party representative Dan Kairis. Incumbents and challengers who did show up offered a variety of solutions mainly focused on reducing spending and raising taxes.

55th District state House candidate Greg Brownfield and 83rd District State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia both openly called for the creation of new state revenue to address the problem. Neither of them specifically referred to an increase in the state income tax at the forum, but Chapa LaVia has recently openly called for such an increase.

"If you think that Springfield is a big safe full of money, you're wrong," Chapa LaVia said. "We really do need to start looking at revenue enhancement somewhere. Our state's in some real trouble. We need to help the people that need the services. People are fed up with us pointing fingers and blaming each other."

Meanwhile, Steve Rauschenberger, candidate for 22nd District state senator, and State Sen. Chris Lauzen called for millions of dollars in spending cuts. Lauzen specifically called for the total elimination of pensions for state lawmakers, something he himself stands to benefit from.

"We are certainly in pathetic financial condition," Lauzen said. "Where the heck is all the money going? I believe that the No. 1 problem that we face is our pension systems are bankrupt. The liabilities exceed the assets."

But the biggest applause of the night came for Linda Healy, a candidate for state representative in the 50th District. Healy was speaking to a crowd of her peers as the former director of Mutual Ground, a local shelter for abused men and women that's felt the funding cuts directly.

"I have lived this for the last 23 years," Healy said. "If you want to know how to do more with less, just ask any of the executive directors that have been sitting there and have been the recipient of the decisions that are being made (in Springfield). It's time to get rid of partisan politics. When they won't talk to each other and they won't keep your faces in front of them, no work is being done. The state of Illinois is the biggest social service provider that we've got. It's time that they recognized the faces of the people who need that help."