CARBONDALE — The Responsible Budget Coalition and Fair Tax Now campaign hosted a town hall meeting Tuesday in Carbondale Civic Center to demand that the Illinois General Assembly adopt a constitutional amendment to create a fair tax for all Illinoisans.

Alex Tindal Wiesendanger, Responsible Budget Coalition campaign manager, gave a brief overview of the issue of a fair income tax. In 2014, Illinois dropped the personal income tax rate from 5 percent to 3.75 percent, creating a $5 billion hole in Illinois’s budget.

Then the state went more than two years without a budget, creating $16 billion in unpaid bills, halting road construction projects, dropping its bond rating to near junk status and denying residents essential services.

The answer, according to Wiesendanger, Responsible Budget Coalition and Fair Tax Now, is for the state legislature to pass a joint resolution for a Constitutional Amendment on a fair tax by May 10, 2018, and get the issue on the ballot for the general election in November.

The meeting highlighted stories about how supporters of a fair tax system have been impacted by budget cuts and the impasse. Speakers included Cathy McClanahan of The Women’s Center Inc., Patty Mullen of Good Samaritan Ministries, Annette Jaynes of Illinois Education Association, SIU Student Trustee Sam Beard, Mark Stevens of Jefferson County Health Department, Bill Curtin of Carbondale Community High School, Carbondale Mayor Mike Henry and Jackson County Board Chairman John Rendleman.

McClanahan spoke first, telling the audience that state funding is vital to The Women's Center. State funds pay a portion of personnel costs for the center’s 28 employees and general operating costs for the Domestic Violence Program and Rape Crisis Services.

“Last year, GRF helped us provide services to (give) 1,635 women, men, adolescents and children the tools they needed to escape from abuse, break the cycle of violence, heal from their trauma and resources they need to move forward with their lives. This is accomplished for approximately $930 per person per year,” McClanahan said. “Without general revenue funding, the center would have to consider closing its doors.”

She added that after more than 25 years in this field, she has never seen so many vital services struggling to stay afloat.

“I hope you are as outraged as I am that victims of domestic violence are held hostage during the budget process,” McClanahan said.

She called for the audience to join in asking state officials to pass a fair tax amendment.

Mullen spoke next. Good Samaritan Ministries provides an emergency shelter, transitional shelter, soup kitchen, food pantry and emergency assistance with utilities. 

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“For most of us, homeless people tend to be invisible,” Mullen said. “It costs $33,000 to aid a homeless person on the streets, and less than $10,000 to keep a person in assisted housing.”

She told how the soup kitchen was days from closing in 2015. When the Interfaith Council sent word out to the community, residents stepped up with donations to keep it open.

“It is imperative we keep agencies open to provide vital services,” Mullen said.

One by one, speakers stressed the importance of state funding to their organizations and calling for a fair tax to make state funding more stable.

At the end of the stories, Jaynes called State Rep. Natalie Phelps Finnie, the only legislator who attended the hearing, to the podium.

“Will you as state representative vote to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot in 2018?” Jaynes asked Finnie.

“As long as 90 percent of my people get a tax cut, I’m all for it,” Finnie replied.

Jaynes asked member of the audience to sign letters to be sent to State Rep. Terri Bryant and State Rep. Dave Severin, who did not attend.

“It makes so much sense. Illinois should have done this years ago and not worked itself into a hole,” audience member Georgeann Hertzog said. “This is a very sensible thing for us to do.”

A similar town hall meeting is planned for April 16 in Mount Vernon.

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