By Chris Magee
There's a childish game called "chicken." where two people ride straight at one another, in a car, a bike, whatever, to see who flinches and gets out of the way first. Designed as a test of courage and bravado, it is really just a good way to get hurt.
Illinois politicians are playing chicken right now with the budget. The problems are real - there's a $7 billion deficit. Governor Pat Quinn wants to raise taxes to plug this gap, and Republican and many Democratic legislators are refusing, so Quinn is threatening to take away funding from just about every social welfare program in the state to make up the difference.
Quinn knows if he targets the popular programs, the ones most people think we need, he is likely to get some action on his proposals. You're not going to find too many people in favor of eliminating drug treatment programs and battered women shelters.
Of course, the legislators can't allow themselves to be blackmailed, so they're playing hardball. They're not going to give in to threats and pass a tax increase they don't believe in.
Caught in the middle are these social services - shelters, treatment programs, food pantries, just about every fashionable cause you can think of - and they don't care who wins the game of chicken. They just want to have the money to keep doing their jobs.
In the last few weeks The Sun has received letters from seemingly every agency within 25 miles that will be affected by these cuts. Many have run in print already and many more are scheduled for publication in coming days. Each of these letters explains the valuable work these groups do and details all the cuts that will have to be made July 1 if the legislators don't find that money.
No one wants to take away funding from these agencies, but it could very well happen despite everyone's well wishing. In this game of chicken, if no one flinches, the two sides will collide in the middle and it will all come crashing down.
Unemployment in Illinois is over 10 percent now. Some estimates say state budget cuts could result in 200,000 additional job losses in our state. Is this the way to get out of the recession? Laying off employees, putting the junkies on the street, leaving those who have lost their jobs without anywhere to turn for help?
Yes, the Republicans have a point. The state needs to try to make other cuts before taking the easy way out of a tax increase. But there isn't $7 billion worth of fat in the budget. New revenue will need to be found.
No one wants to pay more taxes, especially in an economic downturn. But sometimes something is too important not to fund. Should the governor and legislators who got us into this mess by spending money like drunken sailors be held accountable? Absolutely. But groups that had nothing to do with the problem shouldn't be the ones to pay for the mistakes.
Chicken is a stupid game. It's time for our leaders to grow up and make some adult decisions before it's too late. As I write this, there are seven days until time runs out. The time for grandstanding and scoring political points is long gone. Now is the time to get serious and solve these problems.