Executive Director Reports

Exposing the lies: Time to stand up

A lot of politicians and pundits would like us to believe that the greed of Wall St. moguls has nothing to do with our economic woes.

They claim excessive government spending burdens taxpayers and slows growth.

They're dead wrong.

We hear politicians of both parties talk about the need to create "private sector" jobs, as if the work performed by public employees were a drag on the economy rather than an asset to the community.

I wish people of that mindset had been traveling with me in October as I went from one corner of the state to the other to testify at legislative hearings in opposition to Gov. Pat Quinn's attempt to close seven state facilities. In each community hundreds of townspeople packed large meeting halls to demonstrate support for keeping their facility open.

Families of residents at the threatened developmental and mental health centers described the exceptional care those facilities provide and their fears of what might happen to their loved ones if the closures go forward.

Sheriffs and state's attorneys expressed their strong objections to the closure of Human Services facilities, pointing out that whatever cost saving might be realized from shuttering the state psychiatric hospitals would be offset by increased costs for courts and jails, where many of the patients would end up.

At virtually every site, be it a developmental or mental health center, a correctional center for youth or a prison, when I stood before the press to denounce the threatened closure, standing by my side was a local mayor along with Chambers of Commerce and economic development agencies.

Clearly few, if any, of these towns-folk think that these government- funded, governmentoperated facilities are burdening their hometowns.

Indeed, the tax dollars being spent are economic engines for these communities.

The state's own figures demonstrate the adverse impact the closures would have: a loss of nearly $300 million to the Illinois economy.

And rather than, say, polluting our air, despoiling our environment, or producing a product that might be unhealthy for us, as many private corporations do, each of these state facilities provides a vital public service. By treating the mentally ill, providing a home for a developmentally disabled individual, rehabilitating a youth or removing a felon from our midst, they provide a better quality of life for us all.

That's why it was so disappointing to see some legislators point to other centers and suggest closing them rather than defending their home facility on its own merits.

As providers of public services, all AFSCME members have a huge stake in the debate about the role of government and government spending. We have a strong case to make for the importance of public services to the fabric of our society and the health of our economy.

Seeking to cut someone else's facility is no answer. Eventually they'll get us all if we don't stand up firmly and forcefully for the important role public services play.

We have to tell our story. And we need to tell it to the politicians who, while claiming they are on our side, continually refuse to support the revenue measures, yes, let me say it, taxes, needed to maintain vital services and vibrant communities.

Indeed, with some exceptions, many legislators speaking on behalf of the facilities in their districts voted against the recent state income tax increase, which has generated $6 billion in revenue for the state. Imagine what the state budget would be like without this needed revenue.

Worse yet, many of these same legislators are advocating for further tax breaks for businesses. According to their calculus, it's these private businesses that create jobs, and it's taxes that kill them.

How then would they explain the fact that Motorola Mobility's response to a $100 million tax cut was to lay off 850 employees, one quarter of its Illinois workforce?

They can't have it both ways. They can't pretend to be for us and against the revenues that fund the services we provide.

And we can't have it both ways, either. We can't say the service we provide is important, but those provided by our counterparts in other towns, or the services provided by a county hospital, a city health clinic, a local library or a public works department are unimportant.

If there's waste, let's cut it out. But let's make sure we never play the politicians' game by looking around for some other public service to cut when ours is in jeopardy.

The message is clear: Public services are essential to the common good, contributing both to the health of our economy and the well-being of our communities. Who will deliver that message, if not us? And when will we deliver it, with the imminent threat to the work we do, if not now?