TOWANDA — Illinoisans are frustrated with nearly two years without a state budget, and that frustration was represented Wednesday by 15 people with strong voices and sore feet.
Participants in a 200-mile march from Chicago to Springfield — advocating what marchers call a "people and planet first budget" — stopped for lunch in Towanda on its way to a 7 p.m. Wednesday "listening session" at the Unitarian Universalist Church, 1613 E. Emerson St., Bloomington.
"People in Illinois are desperate for a budget," said Anna Sekiguchi, 18, of Normal, who is participating in the entire event as its youngest marcher.
"We are a manifestation of the tension that everyone is feeling in Illinois," Sekiguchi said at a Route 66 roadside park in Towanda.
"We're getting a lot of honks and, this morning, people gave us money to support us," Tosha Maaks, 40, of Stanford said as the marchers neared Towanda. One Route 66 driver honked and another waved as she spoke.
"People know what we're doing," said Maaks, who joined the marchers in Lexington and will be with them until they reach Funks Grove on Thursday.
Maaks, wearing a green NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) shirt, said "This is important to us because mental health is one of the things affected by this budget crisis."
"We won't sit back and take this anymore," Maaks said. "We need a balanced budget that works for the people of Illinois."
Sponsored by Fair Economy Illinois, which includes organizations such as Illinois Peoples Action, marchers are advocating changes that they say would raise $23.5 billion by closing corporate tax loopholes ($2.5 billion), passing a financial transactions tax on trading of futures and commodities in Chicago ($12 billion) and enacting a graduated income tax ($9 billion), meaning rich people would pay a higher percentage of their income for taxes than poor people.
According to Kristi Sanford, spokeswoman with Fair Economy Illinois, those changes would balance the budget, with money left over.
Because of tax breaks, two-thirds of Illinois corporations pay no income tax to the state, Sanford claimed.
A progressive (graduated) income tax is used for federal income taxes, noted Sekiguchi, who just completed her freshman year at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign.
"Millionaires and billionaires need to pay their fair share and not the same (percentage) as an elderly person on Social Security," said Sekiguchi, a 2016 Normal Community West High School graduate, wearing a "March to Springfield for a People and Planet First Budget" shirt.
Sekiguchi is marching because lack of state support is threatening schools, universities and human services agencies.
"Education and mental health care are important to me," said Sekiguchi, who has generalized anxiety.
Also marching all 200 miles is Samantha Nichols, 24, a seminarian from Chicago who was a chaplaincy intern at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center in Normal last summer.
"I am sick and tired of living in a state without a budget, where elected officials on both sides capitulate to major corporations rather than tax the rich and pass a budget for Illinois," Nichols said.
The Illinois Senate on Tuesday passed a budget — with all Democratic votes and no Republican votes — that calls for a 5 percent cut to nearly all state programs, increasing the personal income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent, increasing the corporate income tax from 5.25 percent to 7 percent, eliminating three corporate tax loopholes and implementing a sales tax on some services.
The budget goes to the House.
But Nichols said, "The answer is not cuts and tax increases but making the rich pay their fair share."
"This is Day 10," Nichols said of the march. "My feet hurt but it's hard not to be in good spirits because I'm around great people."