An Open Letter to Governor Rauner
March 29, 2015
Governor Bruce Rauner Office of the Governor
207 State House
Springfield, IL 62706
Dear Governor Rauner:
I am the resident bishop of The United Methodist Church in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (which is roughly Illinois north of I-80 and comprises about 400 churches). I am writing in reference to the proposed cuts in the Illinois budget in relation to how they will impact some of our basic values and ministries as people of The United Methodist Church.
First, I would like to acknowledge that we all understand there are serious financial realities facing the State of Illinois that have been postponed for a later day and that the latter day is upon us. We do need to be more fiscally responsible and sustainable. But as every leader understands — yourself included, we have to be very careful about our values and priorities; both of which are embedded into any budget — state or church. Budgets are moral documents.
I appreciate and affirm — and have publicly stated — that you supported early childhood programing because for every $1 invested in children and youth today, we save $7 down the line in services for children. Even so, it appears that many proven programs for children are still in danger of being cut. The budget also eliminates entirely the funding for young adults 18-21 ($147 Million). That concerns us.
As United Methodists, we have several hundred years of concern and outreach to children and youth. In Northern Illinois that has meant we were involved in starting agencies to support vulnerable children and young adults moving into adulthood. We now have covenant agreements with three specific agencies — Rosecrance, MYSI, and ChildServ — each of which stand to be severely impacted by your budget.
The significant cuts are for those young adults who are 18-21. First of all, some of these are parents of the children who need strong families. The proposals affect the wrap-around support that those parents and other young adults need in order to become strong and healthy individuals with strong families; to become solid citizens, including tax payers. They need domestic violence, drug and alcohol addiction services. They need after school programs for their younger siblings so they are free to get an education themselves. They also need transitional housing that supports them as they move into the challenges of adulthood.
More than 2,400 youth are wards of the state and will be out of care on July 1, 2015. (This doesn’t include those who will time-out in subsequent years.) Youth who have experienced the kind of trauma that has placed them in the care of the state are vulnerable and are marginalized and high risk for crime, violence and eventual incarceration; all of which are very costly in lives as well as tax dollars. This is a critical time in young adults’ lives, regarding their trajectory toward becoming healthy, productive adults.
Furthermore, we all know that higher education will determine the level of financial security that young people can expect; again affecting their ability to be good taxpaying citizens. Therefore the serious cuts to higher education make the likelihood that parents with young children won’t have an opportunity to attend college, professional programs, or other post-secondary training options that will lift them out of poverty.
I strongly urge you to pursue other avenues for revenue instead of simply cutting services for the most marginalized and vulnerable. The benefits of the recent tax decrease go toward those with the highest incomes in the state while young adults and other marginalized citizens reap minimal benefits but face significant cuts in human services of all kinds. Your call or promise for “shared sacrifice” begs an understanding of how the most marginalized, specifically young adults and children, are receiving their share of the benefits and not just a share of the sacrifice.
Many of our United Methodist covenant-affiliated agencies are going to be affected by these proposed cuts. You will undoubtedly be hearing from them. I’ll not rehearse all of their arguments to you now, but simply say that the religious institutions and their affiliates in this state have been asked over the years (or it has been assumed that they will) to stand in the gap between what the government will not do and what must be done for the most marginalized. And we have, over and over again: we are known for doing “all the good we can in all the ways we can as long as we can,” to quote our founder, John Wesley. Now we ask that you help us provide for the most marginalized and vulnerable without having “to make more bricks with less straw.” It is to your personal, political, and moral advantage to add revenue to our state treasury rather than cutting services to our vulnerable citizens.
Leaders and people of all faiths will be present and participatory in the discussions around the proposed state budget in the coming weeks. We will keep you and our legislators in our prayers as well as to be active participants in the process.
Finally, this: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)