Topinka: Legislators went too far with social service cuts


SPRINGFIELD -- Democrats and Republicans in the Illinois General Assembly should undo some funding cuts to social service programs that serve the needy, state Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka said Wednesday.

Topinka, a Republican from the Chicago area, said during a stop at Springfield’s Family Service Center that she isn’t pointing out the financial suffering of not-for-profit organizations this week to embarrass Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn.

The Quinn administration is carrying out a state budget that includes $1.6 billion in Medicaid cuts worked out as part of a bipartisan deal among lawmakers. The budget also includes $1.3 billion to begin chipping away at state government’s $8 billion backlog of bills.

“Just because we had a bipartisan budget agreement does not mean that it was good, does not mean that cuts could not be made but could not have been made better,” said Topinka, 68, a former state lawmaker, state treasurer and gubernatorial candidate.

Illinois Has Heart

Topinka said she named her tour of social-service organizations “Illinois Has Heart” because Illinois should be known for more than corrupt politicians and pension-funding problems. The tour, which began Sunday in Chicago, concludes today in Quincy, East St. Louis and Murphysboro.

“I don’t like bureaucracies,” Topinka told reporters, “but when you are dealing with the neediest of the needy, that’s where government kicks in — the old, the sick, the infirm, the children. … So if you’re going to make cuts, first look somewhere else.”

Topinka said she is an advocate of balanced state budgets, but both Democrats and Republicans have been too aggressive in cutting social service funding.

Though she didn’t offer specific suggestions for changes in the state budget, Topinka said she plans to contact legislative leaders to restore some of the money that social service agencies depend on.

Topinka dismissed the notion that advocating for certain funding priorities is outside her role as comptroller.

“I’m the fiscal officer, which means I want our money to go as far as it can go, and go to the places where it is truly needed,” she said. “

Can speed up payments

Topinka told local social service officials that her office has some latitude to issue certain checks ahead of others to prevent an organization from going bankrupt or closing programs. Nonprofits should call the comptroller’s office if they get in a bind because of late payments, she said.

Topinka’s office was able to speed up some payments late last year to the Family Service Center for its Young Parent Support Services program. But chronic state payment delays eventually prompted the center’s board in January to shut down the home-visiting program, which was serving 70 low-income parents and 80 children.

The program eventually was taken over by the Sangamon County Department of Public Health, which is better able to withstand long payment delays, according to Family Service Center executive director Erin Predmore. Two of the laid-off employees were hired by the health department, she said.

Dean Olsen can be reached at (217) 788-1543. Follow him at