Tuesday, June 23, 2009

What You Do To The Least of These, You Do To Me

Do you know who is credited with the phrase in the title of this post? I'll give you a hint. The exact quote is "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me." Jesus Christ is said to have made that statement in the parable about The Judgment of Nations. I'm not a religious person, but what this statement says to me is that the way we treat the least among us (both the good and bad ways we treat people), those who are unable to help themselves, says more about us as a human race than anything else.

If you live in Illinois, you are undoubtedly aware of the debate in Springfield about the state's budget woes. Governor Quinn, like many other governors before him, is threatening to cut the state's human services programs by 50% unless the state legislators approve the 50% increase in state income taxes. Currently, Illinois taxes residents a flat 3% income tax. Under Governor Quinn's plan, that income tax would increase to 4 1/2% for two years and then revert back to the 3% tax rate.

What are human services? Many people mistakenly think of human services simply as welfare for poor people who don't pay taxes. That would be a far too simplistic explanation of it. Yes, human services includes programs for the poor (and by poor, I mean people who live further below the poverty line than you can possibly imagine), but it also includes programs for the disabled including special education, tutors, rehabilitative services, personal assistants (not someone to come take dictation, but someone to come in and assist the client with everyday living activities like getting dressed, bathing, etc.), respite care, residential services, drug and alcohol programs, programs for the elderly, day care, foster care services, and many other programs that anyone at any time could need.

The Republican legislators, while saying they do not want to cut these services, refuse to support Governor Quinn's tax increase plan. They say that cuts are necessary in other areas of the State budget. Democrats also do not want to cut human services and are generally supporting the Governor's tax plan. And that's where the impasse lies.

Human services programs are at the core of who we are. Any of us could become disabled or have a child with severe disabilities. With any luck, we will all live to a ripe old age and the elderly programs will make our lives a bit better. In this economy, we never know when we will lose our job and need assistance from some of the state run jobs programs. How we treat the least among us speaks volumes about us as a society. Illinois needs all the human services we have. They simply are not optional. Holding them hostage in these budget wars is despicable.

I took a look at the state-by-state comparison of income taxes for 2008 by the Federation of Tax Administrators (they are not doing this comparison again until 2010). State income taxes range from no income tax in Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming to up to 9.5% in Vermont. At 3%, Illinois is right in the middle. Furthermore, income taxes have not been raised in Illinois in 20 years.

As much as I don't like the idea of paying more in the way of taxes and as much as I believe there are certainly areas in the State that could be run more efficiently and with less money, I also believe that we must take care of the least among us and the best way to do that is to protect human services. For those reasons, I encourage all of the legislators to quit balancing the budget on the poor and disabled and to vote for the tax increase and then get to work on finding areas to trim.

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