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Local Editorials

What We Think: Budget crisis shadow darkens more doors

The state’s ongoing budget crisis casts its shadow on Sauk Valley Community College and the Lee-Ogle Transportation System. The number of people personally affected by Illinois’ financial woes seems destined to increase.

Illinois’ budget crisis has been going on for years.

A 4-year temporary income tax increase (2011-14), approved by then-Gov. Pat Quinn and fellow Democrats in the Legislature, did surprisingly little to alleviate it.

The 2014 election of Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, followed by his tussle with the Democratic-controlled Legislature, dominated by House Speaker Michael Madigan, sparked a yearlong budget impasse followed by the half-year stopgap budget agreed to in late June.

And yet, living in a state hit hard by billions of dollars in deficits, debt, and unfunded pension obligations, most Illinoisans say the state’s budget stalemate hasn’t affected them.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, based at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, recently conducted a poll of 1,000 registered Illinois voters.

It found that 62 percent said the budget mess hadn’t affected them one bit, while 34 percent said they had been personally affected.

Of those feeling budgetary pain, 18 percent said it had cost them their jobs (or they feared it soon would); 15 percent said the loss of general social services had impacted them; and 14 percent said the loss of K-12 education funding had affected them.

Based on recent developments in the Sauk Valley, more residents here could soon be affected by the budget crisis.

Sauk Valley Community College faces a $1.9 million budget deficit for the 2017 fiscal year, and the state has paid only about one-third ($525,000 in stopgap budget funds) of what the college hopes to receive. Trustees who met Monday talked about taking actions that would impact students and taxpayers.

Scholarship athletes, dual-credit students, and Sauk Scholars could find themselves receiving thousands of dollars less in financial support from the college.

In addition, the board plans to ask local property taxpayers for more money. Its levy adjustments would cost the owner of a $100,000 home about 40 cents more a year.

Meanwhile, the Lee-Ogle Transportation System, which provides more than 75,000 rides a year to area residents for medical, employment and educational purposes, will shorten its hours of operation because the state hasn’t paid the agency what it owes.

Starting Tuesday, LOTS will operate only 9 hours a day (7 a.m. to 4 p.m.), rather than its current 12 hours a day (6 a.m. to 6 p.m.).

In debt to the tune of $600,000, and with that debt expected to rise to $750,000 by Dec. 31, the transit agency could shut down at year’s end if state funding isn’t received by then.

A community college and a transit agency are just two examples of how the state’s worsening financial situation, made worse by elected leaders’ intransigence, is being felt by people here at home.

Sadly, poll numbers gauging those who are personally affected by the budget crisis seem destined to rise.

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