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Wednesday, June 3, 2009 07:16 am

Protesters hungry for a fair budget

Illinois group finds spending cuts hard to swallow

Springfield justice activist Diane Lopez Hughes, first row, left, and members of Communities United for Revenue Equity launched a hunger strike during the last days of the legislative to urge passage of a state income tax increase proposal.

After debating well past midnight Monday morning, Illinois lawmakers scurried out of Springfield leaving the state’s gaping $11.6 billion budget hole largely unfilled.

In addition, Gov. Pat Quinn insists, if the state doesn’t find a way to increase revenue and shore up the deficit, education, healthcare and social services will see major cuts. Quinn had proposed a 50 percent increase in the personal income tax rate, from 3 percent to 4.5 percent, which passed in the Senate but was defeated in the Illinois House.

According to Quinn’s projections, 190,000 college students would lose their state scholarships, 175,000 patients would no longer have access to community mental health services, 20,000 senior citizens would have to do without home health services and 9,000 foster parents wouldn’t get their state stipend checks.

It’s enough to make anyone lose their appetite. To protest what they characterize as the budget process that’s often unfair to the neediest of citizens, a group called Communities United for Revenue Equity organized a four-day hunger strike inside the Capitol last week.

Their demands, listed on the back of T-shirts group members wore during their demonstration, include increasing the state’s income tax, an expansion of the state Earned Income Tax Credit and maintaining the “safety net for seniors, children and working families.”

Most of the hunger strikers traveled from Chicago. Springfield social justice advocates Peg Knoepfle and Diane Lopez Hughes also participated.

“One of the frustrations that people share is that it seems like a political game,” says Hughes, who fasted from Saturday to Sunday and is concerned about cuts to resources for homeless services, particularly youth.

The hunger strike ended on Sunday, Hughes says, when it became evident that a temporary income tax increase bill would fail in the House, which it did 42-74.

She was particularly encouraged by the racial and generational diversity and camaraderie that existed among the of the group members, one of whom was 87 years old. Hughes also expects more acts of protest to be organized when budget negotiations are restarted.

“When people do this kind of action, they get so much more out of it than losing a few pounds,” she says.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com

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