Fed Up with a Budget Crisis, Illinois Citizens Take to the Streets

Jeff Bryant

Joe Padilla and Egle Malinauskaite are part of a small group marching 200 miles from Chicago to the Illinois State Legislature in Springfield bringing a “People & Planet First Budget” to their lawmakers.

“We’re in a narrative battle to change education from a ‘privilege’ to a fundamental right,” Joe Padilla tells me.

“The problem is a lack of vision from our political leaders,” adds Egle Malinauskaite.

Photo credit: March to Springfield

Padilla and Malinauskaite are part of a small group marching 200 miles from Chicago to the Illinois State Legislature in Springfield to demand the passage of a new Illinois state budget.

Some ten to fifteen marchers – ranging in age from twenty-three to ninety – set out on May 15 and expect to reach the state capital on May 30.

Marchers want to break up a logjam between Democrats in the Illinois General Assembly and Republican Governor Bruce Rauner that has prevented passage of a state budget for nearly two years.

The marchers are demanding a “People and Planet First Budget for Illinois” that proposes $23.5 billion in new state spending on fully funded pre-K through 12 education, free college tuition, universal healthcare, green energy, human services, infrastructure, and public worker pensions.

To pay for their demands, the marchers want corporate tax loopholes closed, taxes on higher income earners raised, and a “LaSalle Tax” that taxes financial transactions on Chicago’s commodities exchange.

Malinauskaite calls attention to a loophole in Illinois tax law that allows a large majority of corporations operating in the state to pay zero state taxes.

Both point to the absence of any kind of tax on financial transactions taking place in Chicago. While Illinois families get taxed for buying groceries and household goods, transactions on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange remain tax-free.

While Illinois families get taxed for buying groceries and household goods, transactions on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and the Chicago Board Options Exchange remain tax-free.

According to Fair Economy Illinois, who organized the march, “Each year the value of products traded on these two exchanges totals well over $900 trillion.”

“It’s unconscionable,” says Malinauskaite about the lack of will in her state legislature to tax the state’s wealthiest citizens and businesses to pay for basic services most people need.

Education Is Key

Malinauskaite first came to this country across the Canadian border, hidden in the back seat of her parents’ car, when she was six years old.

A native of Lithuania, she is still undocumented but has followed the American Dream by doing well enough in public schools to get accepted to a prestigious high school focused on math and science located in a Chicago suburb.

She now attends the Illinois Institute of Technology, on a scholarship, majoring in a field of medical science often cited by critics as a course of study our nation’s education system doesn’t emphasize enough.

Padilla grew up in Naperville, also outside of Chicago, where he attended public schools.

His middle-class, single-parent household was clobbered during the Great Recession when his father lost half his income, and Padilla feared his father’s promise to pay college tuition for both Joe and his sister would go unfulfilled.

Now, with his dad’s financial help, he attends the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he plans to graduate next year with an education degree. He aspires to be a public school social studies teacher in Illinois, a state which is currently experiencing a statewide teacher shortage.

March to Springfield

The route from Chicago to Springfield is almost 200 miles.

Having access to affordable, high-quality education allowed Malinauskaite and Padilla to pursue their dreams. Now they believe access to good K-12 schools is in imminent danger in Illinois, and higher education is increasingly unavailable or unaffordable to many would-be college students.

Unfair, Inadequate School Funding

State funding for education is a major sticking point in the legislative stalemate.

Funding for public schools in Illinois is among the worst in the nation. A string of reports found the state funds schools with the greatest number of low-income students an average of 20 percent less than it gives to wealthier districts.

A number of districts downstate have filed a lawsuit against the state for not providing sufficient funding to meet state-imposed academic requirements. The Chicago school district has also filed a lawsuit against the governor and state officials charging that the inadequate funding of the district’s schools is a civil rights violation.

Illinois’ lack of state funding for higher education may be even worse than its record for K-12. From 2000 to 2015, the state cut nearly $1.4 billion from higher education funds. “Higher education in Illinois is dying,” declared an op-ed in the New York Times in 2016. And as the budget impasse continued into 2017, state universities imposed employee furloughs, cut academic programs, laid off staff, halted maintenance projects, and delayed vendor payments to deal with the prolonged funding crisis.

The marchers’ call for increased financial support for public education in their state is relevant to the rest of the nation. State after state continues to withhold funding for public education to keep taxation on wealthy people and corporations at historic lows.

According to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Thirty-seven states provided less overall state funding per student in the 2014 school year (the most recent year available) than in the 2008 school year.”

Meanwhile the effective rate corporations pay in taxes has declined appreciably since the 1950s. Income tax rates, even for those who are wealthy, are also in down significantly during the same time period.

A Message to Lawmakers

Once the marchers reach Springfield, Padilla and Malinauskaite hope to speak directly to state lawmakers.

Photo credit: March to Springfield

A specific ask they have is for legislators to vote yes on HB4030 that would provide free in-state tuition at all community colleges and public universities in the state.

March to Springfield

Marchers are walking a 200 mile route to demand Illinois lawmakers represent the people and not the rich.

Padilla also wants to ask state lawmakers, “What makes you think that protecting corporations and billionaires has made things better for the people of this state?”

“You’re elected by the people,” Malinauskaite wants to remind legislators. “You even have the word ‘representative’ in your job title. For you to let wealthy people control the agenda is just wrong.”

Cross-posted from The Progressive

 

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