Refuse to burden the helpless among us

 
By Lee Daniels
Updated 5/9/2011 6:48 PM
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  • Lee Daniels

    Lee Daniels

Perhaps Abraham Lincoln said it best: "The legitimate object of government, is to do for a community of people, whatever they need to have done, but cannot do, at all, or cannot, so well do, for themselves in their separate and individual capacities. In all that the people can individually do as well for themselves, government ought not to interfere."

Illinois is considering deep cuts in programs that are designed to help those who cannot help themselves. I'm not talking about people down on their luck, but instead about those with profound developmental, physical and mental challenges -- people who will die without our help and experience day-to-day challenges we cannot fathom. While some would like you to believe this is about numbers on a balance sheet, this is about people.

It is critical that we talk about priorities when tough budget decisions need to be made. Our state government owes billions in past-due obligations. The unpaid bills are skyrocketing -- even after a multibillion-dollar income tax increase. And while Illinois is not alone in the nation's financial quicksand, our state does not appear poised to make tough decisions on expenditures, due to the pressure of groups that continue to increase the burden rather than share the sacrifice.

As a former lawmaker who sat at the budget table, I understand the challenges legislators face. Times have changed, and so must we. Regrettably, the discussions in Springfield are veering off course.

Those with developmental disabilities, mental illness and other challenges seem to be taking the brunt of the budgetary bludgeon. In spite of that, many of these families and organizations who have experienced unfulfilled promises came out in favor of tax increases at the request of the administration, only to be passed over once again!

The administration's planned cuts to delivery of services are a cruel and possible death sentence for some. Others will simply get lost in an already inadequately funded system. The slings and arrows toward those with physical and mental challenges seem even crueller when you discover that union employees at state institutions were spared from cuts, while less expensive but more effective options of treatment by nonprofits are teed up for being slashed.

Beyond the cruelty of slashing care for our most vulnerable individuals lies some bizarre economic logic. For example, the state is examining cutting care for pregnant mothers with substance abuse problems, designed to ensure newborns enter the world healthy. Cutting the program will not only endanger innocent young lives but also just about guarantee the state will pay huge medical bills to treat their fragile health at a much higher cost than the preventive care provided the mother.

In tough times, tough choices must be made. Legislators are in the process of reviewing the budget line by line, and I commend them. However, the review process will require a strong will and for some the challenge of choosing to alter the status quo. There are some groups in Springfield that are not willing to negotiate for the good of all and only interested in protecting their own at the expense of people in need.

I urge legislators to stay strong and to steel their resolve against the threat of retaliation at the polls. Remember the task of government and Lincoln's words as you make decisions. While these organizations and their families need your support, certainty and budget stability is invaluable to their security.

There is sacred ground in every state budget -- ground that a truly great society would not sully. Our most vulnerable citizens await their fate at the epicenter of that ground.

Let's not let them and our state down again.

• Lee A. Daniels, of Elmhurst, retired in 2007 after 32 years in the Illinois House, 20 of which he served as GOP leader.