On May 4, a group of community members gathered in our sanctuary for a service of listening and prayer with the purpose of better understanding the toll the state budget impasse is having on our community.
ISU President Larry Dietz talked about how the stalemate fuels the 17,000 students leaving Illinois annually to find education elsewhere. This drain of talent and loss of revenues has a multiplying impact. President Dietz committed to pray for state leaders and for compromise, stability and “a multi-year phase plan.”
Heartland Community College President Rob Widmer lamented that these past two years without a state budget have been the most frustrating of his 40 years as a leader in education. Heartland has had to cut vital programs like adult education and ESL. Illinois Wesleyan Provost Jonathan Green said that the impasse is also hurting private universities, since a large percentage of IWU students also depend on aid like MAP.
School superintendents Mark Daniel and Barry Reilly shared how local schools are struggling due to the impasse. Even promised funds are not arriving, creating an atmosphere of uncertainty and cuts. Social service agency cuts also mean the schools have to pick up more services to students, without any more personnel to handle the growing needs.
ISU sociology professor Chris Gjesfjeld talked about his students who want to serve but are getting the message that maybe Illinois does not want them. Baby Fold CEO Dianne Schultz read the preamble to the Illinois Constitution and its promise of what state government is supposed to be. This is worth a good review! She went on to talk about some of the vulnerable children and families in our community who are not being helped due to the impasse. It costs taxpayers more when these children end up in psychiatric institutions, not to mention the toll on our communities of having destabilized families.
Lisa Pieper of Children’s Home + Aid said they were only able to help one pregnant teenager this year, turning away over 100 who wanted support. Dontae Latson of the YWCA asked the audience to imagine telling a young woman who has been trafficked and sexually abused that there is no money to help her get home.
Normal Mayor Pro-Tem Jeff Fritzen and Bloomington Mayor Pro-Tem Karen Schmidt strongly challenged leaders to put aside differences to break through the impasse, saying “Political positioning has put the common good at risk.”
Retired judges Elizabeth Robb and John Freese urged citizens to demand legislators and the governor meet their constitutional obligation to provide a budget. Judge Freese added, “If they cannot or will not govern, they should step aside and let someone else govern.”
Clergy present talked about the power of prayer to change us and our world. We invite you to join us in prayer for our leaders and for a breakthrough, to contact elected officials, and to make a contribution that will help someone who is struggling.
We are now calling on every church, every member of our faith communities and every citizen concerned about the budget impasse and our common good to take these steps:
1. Spend the next 40 days in prayer for our leaders and for a breakthrough.
2. Contact your elected state officials and let them know that you are praying for their success in breaking through the budget impasse.
3. Make some kind of contribution that will shore up the persons suffering the most by the lack of state funding.