But lawmakers on Thursday questioned the agency's commitment, given
the fact that DHS employees received pay raises.
"I don't know who
is more vulnerable in Illinois; tell me who they are," said state
Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Highland, in a heated discussion during a
committee meeting. "Bring in your AFSCME (American Federation of
State, County and Municipal Employees) employees and have them stand
before us and tell us that they are more vulnerable than the people
at these facilities."
DHS Secretary Michelle Saddler said the workload for employees
has doubled due to layoffs and that DHS employees have received pay
raises that total up to $47 million.
A panel of legislators in a House Appropriations-Human Services
Committee grilled Saddler and other DHS directors as the agency
presented its line-by-line budget proposal for fiscal 2012, which
starts July 1. The deadline for the budget is May 31. The DHS’
proposed 2012 budget is $388 million less than its current $3.7
"We are here today to make our final request -- I dare say, our
final plea -- for a budget that cares for our citizens, citizens who
need services in order to live conscious, engaged and independent
lifestyles, and lives in which we all -- each of us -- can make a
contribution," Saddler said.
The tone in the committee room changed once DHS said it would cut
more in the community services it provides and close down two state
schools in Jacksonville -- the Illinois School for the Deaf and the
Illinois School for the Visually Impaired.
State Rep. Jim Watson, a Republican whose district covers the two
schools being threatened with closure, questioned how it was
possible for DHS employees to receive pay raises.
"How did we make this commitment to certain public service sector
unions (for) these raises when we knew we were in a financial
burden?" he said.
The collective bargaining issues for public sector unions were
negotiated during former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's administration.
Jim Nowlan, a research fellow from the University of Illinois'
Institute of Government and Public Affairs, said the labor relations
contracts are the state's obligation.
"(It) cannot be revised unless the unions were willing to open up
the contract for change," said Nowlan, who was an Illinois lawmaker
in the 1960s. "I think the legislators find themselves behind the
eight-ball. They're trying to reduce the pay of state employees in
order to shift the money to more services."
Illinois has the nation's smallest state workforce per capita,
according to Anders Lindall, a spokesman for AFSCME.
"These same workers are struggling just to provide the essential
services residents rely on," Lindall said. "Irresponsible
politicians caused the state's budget problems, and working people
shouldn't be punished for them."
[to top of second column]
Illinois' current deficit is $9 billion, according to the
Governor's Office of Management and Budget. Gov. Pat Quinn is
proposing to spend $12.9 billion on all human services -- not just
those provided by DHS -- for the 2012 budget, while the House is
proposing $12 billion.
"The problem here is 80 percent of the budget goes for Medicaid,
human services, education and paying the (state's) debt, so those
are the only areas in which the budget can be cut," Nowlan said.
"I'm suggesting that it may require shifting some of the proposed
cuts (to other state agencies)."
Quinn has said in the past that one of his top priorities is
"protecting the most vulnerable."
State Rep. Patti Bellock, R-Westmont, said the committee was
hopeful cuts would be made in DHS' administration costs instead of
the services it provides.
"So we were hopeful that cuts could be made in areas where you
wouldn't cut some of the direct services and people. But most of the
letters that we received in return were cuts on programs and not on
anything to do with management or administration, so those are areas
(lawmakers are) looking at when we're looking at the whole budget."
Social service providers and Illinoisans who have benefited from
DHS programs also made their pleas to the panel of representatives
to spare DHS from the additional cuts.
Nineteen-year-old Ladale Williams and his classmates from the
Illinois School for the Deaf traveled from their hometowns to
"Please help keep the ISD open. I want future generations to have
those same chances that I've had to be successful," Williams said
through an interpreter.
Statehouse News; By MARY J. CRISTOBAL]