Editorial: Reality hits in wake of hugs
On Wednesday in Denver, it was all hugs and warmth among Illinois Democrats.
On Thursday the fantasy ended as word arrived of layoffs and closings of state parks and historic sites because of budget troubles rooted in the intraparty war among the state’s top Democrats.
The numbers are staggering: 450 state jobs overall — 300 coming from the Department of Children and Family Services, 75 from the Department of Human Services and another 75 resulting from the closing of some two dozen state parks and historic sites, including the Dana-Thomas House in Springfield.
Suddenly that Mike Madigan-Rod Blagojevich embrace in Denver doesn’t look so sincere.
Blagojevich has been threatening this kind of action all summer, ever since the Illinois House rejected his revenue-generating plans — including a long-term lease of the Illinois State Lottery — and caused what he said is a $2 billion shortfall in the budget. He called the General Assembly back to Springfield for special sessions in July and earlier this month to deal with the budget, but nothing of substance was accomplished.
If the photo of a laughing Madigan and Blagojevich from Denver on Wednesday provided some hope that things might change, Thursday’s announcement was a wrenching reminder that things back home are still the same and will only get worse.
“These cuts are irresponsible and they are deep,” AFSCME executive director Henry Bayer, whose union represents the DCFS and DHS workers who will lose their jobs, said in a statement.
The loss in the human services agencies seem incongruous with an administration that has tried to build its reputation on helping the least fortunate. DCFS caseworkers, who deal with the most at-risk children in the state, already are notoriously overworked. Losing 300 staffers surely won’t help. Union officials Thursday warned that these cuts also will reduce access to food stamps and Medicaid.
We’re not surprised that the Department of Natural Resources took it on the chin in Thursday’s cuts. Blagojevich’s disregard for DNR is legendary. DNR’s budget has shrunk by some $20 million in the last four years, from $211 million to $191 million. Its head count has gone from 2,000 to 1,400 under Blagojevich.
It now loses 39 more people, and Illinois sees 11 of its state parks close.
The sting felt by this community over the closing of the Dana-Thomas House — a true gem that exists today only because of decades of diligent preservation and fundraising work — needs no explanation.
Now, back to that Madigan-Blagojevich hug. Was it just another meaningless act for the cameras? Or is there a chance the message of reconciliation might return from Denver with the governor and the speaker? We have said before there is ample room for compromise by both Blagojevich and Madigan on this budget. But nothing will change until the governor and the speaker put their egos aside and work to fix what has become an untenable situation in state government.
We can only hope it doesn’t take the death of a child due to DCFS cuts to get them to the table.