By Chinta Strausberg, Chicago Crusader
As the second fiscal year approaches with no state budget in sight, Illinois Senator Kimberly A. Lightford (D-4th), Saturday said lawmakers are “not tired of fighting and will continue until our communities get their fair share.”
Speaking at the Rainbow PUSH Coalition headquarters, 930 E. 50th St., Lightford, who is assistant majority leader and chairman of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus, said the fight for fairness and equity is not an easy battle.
“When you look at a $30 billion budget and the fight is over social services, human services, supporting people with mental illness, disabilities, child care provisions, then it makes it real simple for us to fight to the end.”
Saying their last biggest hurdle was the childcare crisis where Gov. Rauner had “stopped all of our kids from being able to receive child care,” the senator said, “well, we’ve restored that.”
She reflected on their recent legislative battle to keep the historic Chicago State University (CSU) open and how they won that battle too.
But, Lightford warned there is another political tug-of-war brewing in Springfield. Explaining, she said, “The governor has a bipartisan bill on his desk to keep not-for-profit organizations open, to keep communities thriving and to employ our youth for the summer. That’s the violence protection right there. That’s violence prevention. Give our young people jobs,” she said.
Making the Black Caucus agenda clear, Lightford vowed “Until we see a budget that gives our youth jobs for the summer restores services for senior citizens to keep Meals on Wheels coming to their homes, to keep quality health care services happening, until we see that, we’ll be automatically opposed,” she told a cheering audience. “We’re going to keep fighting until these changes happen.”
Asking for their prayers, Senator Lightford added, “We need you because we are fighting with some big people with a lot of resources, but we’re not afraid. As long as the community is backing us, it makes our fight even stronger. As long as we know we have your support, we will fight to the very end.”
In a separate interview, Senator Donne Trotter (D-17th), who is chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said the problem is the issue of spending priorities. “Do we want to fund education or repair crumbling structures? Our roads and bridges are important.
“It’s a conflict of priorities. How many dollars that will be dedicated to these priorities.”
Trotter said they are also faced with a governor who “wants to make a part of the budget policy. He wants to combine policy issues, term limits and union negotiated issues, workers comp, the purchasing power of school districts and universities, which are policy issues….
“He is bringing in these side issues which compete with our economic issues” that “clutter up” the entire budget negotiations, said Trotter explaining the Caucus tries to separate the issues and stay on point.
But, the bottom line, Senator Trotter says, is that “We need more money because our needs are more. Health care and education costs have gone up to ensure all of our children get the same resources.
“The only way we can get money is to raise taxes.” He said there is not enough money coming in to pay for services for the people of Illinois and that they cannot cut their way out of this budget stalemate. “You cannot run the state like a business,” Trotter said referring to billionaire Gov. Rauner, a former hedge fund investor.
“The governor says we have a spending problem, but we think it is a revenue problem,” said Trotter. He, Lightford and several other Black lawmakers remained in Springfield over the last holiday to ensure their issues remained on the negotiating table.
While last Tuesday’s “D-Day” passed with no action on the budget, Trotter said constitutionally, “we don’t have to have a budget until July 1st. We still have another month until it negatively impacts” the state.
When asked what can people do to help, Senator Trotter said, “Keep your voices loud. We had a couple thousand kids from all over the state including 1,000 from Chicago to come to Springfield. Keep the chatter up. Everybody knows it’s about power. There are a lot of ideas on the table, and we are sifting through them for the best ones.”