The state’s effort to bring its budget under control has led to deep and painful cuts for many agencies that rely on the state for funding.
Schools, social service agencies and businesses alike have been affected by cuts in state aid and the state’s multibillion-dollar backlog in unpaid bills.
Then there are the fortunate ones – those agencies dear to the hearts of key Democratic legislators whose votes were needed to pass the state’s new budget without any Republican support.
While others are curtailing services, closing up shop or struggling to make ends meet in the face of uncertainty on what payments they will receive from the state and when, these favored groups have funding guarantees.
As The Associated Press’ Christopher Wills outlined in his story in Monday’s edition of the Daily Chronicle, the spending plan diverts millions from “general services” and sets generous grants for a few specific groups. A neighborhood development group on Chicago’s South Side will receive $400,000; a program to bus children to religious schools can count on $1.1 million; there’s $2 million for the Chicagoland Regional College Program; another $750,000 goes to a commission on Latino families.
Although the practice of setting aside specific grants is less common than in days when the state was more flush, it’s a practice that should be eliminated entirely in the name of fairness.
While our state is cutting so deeply on services and other expenses across the board, groups should not be singled out for special treatment simply to appease a few lawmakers whose votes are needed.
Even though the uses for the funds might be entirely legitimate – we hope the money will at least be put to good use – the lack of transparency in revealing who sponsored the grants and how the money will be spent is enough to give at least the appearance of impropriety. It certainly creates an opportunity for the cash to be doled out to political cronies, ghost payrollers or simply squandered.
With so much cost-cutting still needed, preferential treatment is unacceptable. We’re all in this together, after all.