The union that represents most state employees has been running a campaign in recent months, noting that while employee headcount is down, the demand for state services continues to grow. Among other things, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees charges, state prisons are dangerously understaffed, the staff at the Department of Children and Family Services has been cut 22 percent, and employee levels at the Illinois State Police are down 13 percent, with the state crime lab hit especially hard.
Some of these complaints are, of course, self-serving. More than anything else, the employees' union is out to protect employees' jobs. But there is a great deal of truth in the union's charges that many state services have suffered under Gov. Rod Blagojevich. And it's not just agency staffing that is down. State Police officers are patrolling in cars that are well beyond their normal life, and which have broken down on patrol. Illinois waterways that were surveyed every year are now surveyed every two to four years. The state auditor general said that the number of DCFS investigations that have not been completed within the required 60 days has soared since 2000.
And while the state has not been adequately maintaining and funding vital longtime services (including higher education), for some reason (mostly political), it has been eager to take on more programs, more services and more expense. It's as if state government's motto is: Mismanaging as much as possible.
Along those lines, community-based programs that served the developmentally disabled in Illinois say they are facing another year with inadequate funding from the state. That's at the same time the state is increasing funding for institutional care – full-time care at a state institution – a type of care that most states have turned away from because of its expense and efficacy. According to one study, it costs about three times more to provide institutional care versus community care. Yet that is where Illinois is putting much of its money for services to the developmentally disabled.
That's wasteful, not just because of its cost, but because it leaves less money to help those who are waiting to be served by community-based agencies.
Before the state takes on any more programs – expanded health care, expanded preschool, tax credits for college tuition – it should do a better job with its basic programs and services.