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What’s stinkier than a poopy diaper, bigger than a pile of laundry, deeper than a sink full of dirty dishes? It’s the Illinois budget mess and it’s growing by the minute. In fact, the fiscal woes we’re facing here in the Land of Lincoln are said to be among the worst in the nation.

But, what’s even more worrisome is the fact that members of our General Assembly can’t seem to reach consensus on a substantive plan for addressing the state’s mounting money problems. Meanwhile, the crisis is crippling everything from local schools to the vital social services that countless families depend on. And, it’s no surprise that those most affected are women and children according to Gendered Cuts, a report by The Grassroots Collaborative.

Not the kind of news I was hoping for.

One would expect the people who are paid to be the stewards of our state’s resources would have the good sense to know that denying immunizations to infants, eliminating pre-school programs, and rolling back full-day kindergarten (to name just a few of the budget crisis casualties) are not exactly effective strategies for cultivating the human capital essential for building a more prosperous future.

What we need is exactly the opposite, say proponents of gender budgeting, a movement gaining traction across the globe. In a recent interview, Jane Midgley, economist and author of Women and the U.S. Budget: Where Your Money Goes and What You Can Do About It, notes that increasing public spending in areas like child care, health, and education will actually stimulate the economy by strengthening the economic position of working families. Hmm, seems like a good idea to me, not to mention all the money we’ll be saving on those prisons!

Any mom who has managed a family budget on less knows how tough it can be even when you’re not dealing with a $13 billion deficit. There are impossible choices between basic needs like putting food on the table and goals like contributing to a child’s college fund. But, after you’ve clipped all the coupons, scrimped and saved as much as you can and there’s still not enough to cover the essentials, there’s no choice but to figure out how to bring more money in. In most households, this means someone has to pick up extra hours at work or possibly even a second or third job. For a state like Illinois, it means finding ways to generate more revenue like HB 174, a comprehensive tax reform package being championed by the broad-based
Responsible Budget Coalition

Although not the answer to all our troubles, it would be a positive step toward getting our state’s finances back on track while tackling some of the structural issues that got us into this mess to begin with. I’m proud to say that Robyn Gabel (D-Evanston), my own state representative and a strong advocate for maternal and child health, has gone on the record in support of this measure. She gets that a tax increase is a hard sell especially in these tough times but that we’ll pay a lot more down the road if we fail to invest in our children and families. Unfortunately, some of her colleagues don’t seem to be taking this long-range view.

But, there’s still time to call an end to the sandbox squabbling and save the future of real toddlers from being flushed down the political toilet. Illinois lawmakers have until May 31st to approve a budget. My hope is that they can get their priorities straight and give us more than another temporary fix until after the November election.

If not, they just may be in for a serious house cleaning.

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