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May 17, 2014

Extend temporary tax? Yes: Lawmakers should ensure services for people who need help

Just days ago, the Senate completed hearings for the budget that Gov. Pat Quinn presented in light of expiring temporary tax rates. What we learned is that the effect of our scheduled loss of revenue will be dramatic for citizens across the state and debilitating for the state agencies that serve them.

Now it's decision time in Springfield. As we approach the end of session, stark contrasts and difficult choices have been outlined for members of the General Assembly.

Do we continue our commitment to schools or do we decimate classrooms with cuts?

Will we maintain a basic safety net or do we magnify hardship by unraveling basic services for senior citizens, veterans and people with disabilities?

Do we still value providing financial aid for needy students or do we renege and narrow opportunities for our future leaders?

While the choices are clear, still there are too many lawmakers unwilling to match their stated values by paying for priorities and commitments. And given the current political environment where it has become popular to demonize state government and its employees, there is plenty of comfortable cover for these decisions to slash and burn state government.

The people who live and work across downstate should be repulsed by this posturing. Downstate is home to most of the state's major institutions and facilities and employs a greater share of state workers. These institutions, facilities and the communities that house them will be greatly harmed by our budget decisions.

There's not much state government in the Senate district I represent. But I understand the vital role of our state agencies and services. I support them with more than empty rhetoric. There's a certain irony in my votes doing more to support state institutions and employment in Republican areas than those of the local lawmakers who too often seem bent on destroying the same state government that provides their communities jobs and services.

It's unfortunate that so many members on the other side of the aisle value partisan politics instead of their own constituents. But that's their choice. That's the choice both Republicans and Democrats face in the coming weeks.

I don't believe decimating downstate Illinois will make our state stronger. I can only hope others share my view.

John J. Cullerton is Illinois Senate president.

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