Budget cuts hit local services

By Jonathan Jacobson

When nearly all of the $463 million in budget cuts were kept intact last Friday by the Illinois Senate, those affected locally were already braced for impact.

Although legislators have until the end of October to override some of Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s cuts, some organizations in Champaign-Urbana are already preparing to cut back on their services to the community.

Carol Mihina, the office manager for the Don Moyer Boys and Girls Club, said her organization lost out on $100,000 that was in the original budget.

“What it means for us mostly is that we have to make a much larger effort on trying to get donations from the community,” Mihina said.

The money would have funded a program called Smart Moves, which addresses resistance to drug and alcohol use as well as sexual activity.

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“We don’t close down our doors,” Mihina said. “We just reduce the number of children we can support.”

Blagojevich plans on using the money cut from the budget to fund a health care initiative, and his spokespeople have been quick to defend the cuts. They argue that the legislature did not sufficiently consider the importance of providing the state with adequate and affordable health care.

But state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Gifford, said that Blagojevich is “treading on constitutional grounds” by trimming the budget and essentially going behind the back of the legislature to fund his health care plan.

Frerichs said that state workers are the hardest hit by the cuts, pointing to the University of Illinois Extension programs as an example.

The programs offer educational outreach services in all 102 Illinois counties that put the University’s research into action. According to its Web site, more than 2.5 million Illinois residents participate in the programs, 300,000 of whom take part in 4-H youth programs.

Twenty-nine youth educator positions in the 4-H program, 22 of which are filled by employees, will be eliminated.

“All the people in the 29 positions have a terminal contract that will end August 15,” said Gary Beaumont, the extension’s communications specialist.

Beaumont said he does not expect federal and local funds to make up for the loss and that the choice to let go of so many employees was a painful one, “especially in one program area.”

Higher education, especially the state’s 48 community colleges, have also been forced to make some changes as a result of the cuts this year.

Michael Monaghan, executive director of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, said that in the last six years there has been a 15 percent decrease in funding for community colleges.

“When you sustain a cut like that, and a reduction in state support, there’s going to be a consequence,” Monaghan said. “And basically what has happened is community college tuition has gone up since 2002 by approximately 50 percent.”

The $3 million Student Success Grant, which allows community college students with disabilities to receive tutoring, was completely eliminated from the budget.

Community colleges are faced with the difficult choice of raising their own tuition to help students with disabilities – thereby making the increasingly expensive community college tuition bill unaffordable for some – or limiting the options for those students, Monaghan said.

“It’s trading one student for another,” he said. “It’s an awful choice for a college to have to make.”

Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, said Blagojevich’s cuts have the greatest negative impact on the people who need help most.

“He can’t say that these cuts were made so we can do better for education or do better for health care,” Jakobsson said.