For Illinois's impoverished and ill, and the social service agencies that have enabled them to survive, the end of Illinois's state budget stalemate won't matter much.
That's because the State will still be broke. That's because there still won't be enough money in the State's coffers to pay on those agency's contracts. That's because there will be enormous pressure on Governor Rauner and the legislature to address other fiscal problems first, e.g., pension and school funding. That's because that kind of government money no longer exists. The budget stalemate has made clear what many have known for years but pretended they didn't: since Illinois's fiscal house is so completely out-of-order, it can no longer be the primary underwriter of human services programs.
Willie Sutton famously said that he robbed banks because that's where the money is. Well, the money today is still in the banks, but it's not in Illinois's government accounts. It is in the accounts of Illinois's well-to-do, whether in the form of personal and family accounts or those of their philanthropies. And, it's hugely in the accounts of the state's billionaires.
There were 14 Illinoisans on the 2015 Forbes billionaire list, with a total wealth of $41.850 billion. Governor Rauner didn't make that cut, but there is, for instance, that $57.5 million he made in 2014, enough to fund almost ten times over the amount Lutheran Social Services needed to continue the services it had to cut. He would just have to tithe, something I imagine he's had suggested to him at some point.
Yes, those who care for the needy should continue to call on the state to do the right thing. However, a plea for mercy is only that. To survive, Illinois's social services sector needs to follow Jesse James's lead: go where the money is (and will continue to be).
How about an Illinois campaign akin to the Warren Buffett/Bill Gates giving pledge?
Illinois's billionaires could tithe to feed the hungry and heal the sick, fund the public health clinics, school lunch programs, veterans' mental health services, domestic violence shelters, and every single other charity now being laid waste by the State's failure to act. They could turn away from the latest, fashionable fundraising cause, turning towards the begging mothers, children and veterans all over downtown Chicago.
And, just in case you're wondering whether those begging mothers, sick children and homeless veterans really need your help, just in case you're wondering why they just can't pick themselves up and pay for what they need, note this data point from Lutheran Social Services: "The demographics of clients served by LSSI generally reflect those of Illinois' population, with one important exception--more than 80 percent of clients report an annual household income under $15,000, compared to just 12 percent of all Illinois households."
In my grade school, we used to ask this kind of question: how many times does $15,000 go into $41 billion? Or $4 billion (that tithe)? Not to worry: neither you nor your children need to do the math to know there's enough money to go around and end this shameful chapter in Illinois's history. It's time to ask for it.