My thoughts on Hull House in the Trib

Today the Chicago Tribune published a letter I wrote in response to an op-ed by U of C professor Jennifer Mosely. I agreed with Mosley's analysis on why the settlement house Hull House had to close: it became too dependent on the broken promises of politicians in Springfield.

But I didn't agree with her proposed solution to raise taxes again:

This is in response to "An unequal partnership; How Illinois is failing nonprofits" (Commentary, Feb. 7), by Jennifer E. Mosley, an assistant professor at the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago. Mosley's piece on the closure of Hull House does a good job diagnosing the perils nonprofits face when they are funded mostly by taxpayer dollars, but her prescription is exactly wrong.  

After writing "there simply is not enough money in the private sector to cover (nonprofits') costs," Mosley recommends the state raise taxes even higher to allow the state to honor its commitments. If there is simply not enough money on the private side, how is taxing it more going to help pay state bills?  

Despite that failure of logic, Illinois' ongoing budget debacle suggests it's unlikely increasing taxes yet again would address this problem, and that any diminishing returns in revenue would instead once more pay for extraordinary state employee pensions and benefits.  

If you truly want to give private nonprofits the opportunity to achieve their missions by serving others, the solution is making them less dependent on the largesse of politicians, not more.

I wonder whether Governor Quinn will mention Hull House's closing in his budget address on Wednesday. In a Friday evening news dump, we learned he's cutting $20 million from social service spending. That makes a difference for the people affected, but barely makes a dent in the state's debt. Depending on who you ask, Illinois has between $7 billion and  $130 billion in unpaid bills and obligations. That's a wide range, but given that the state is spending more than it receives, that number can only grow.

The State of Illinois is plain broke. Last year's tax hikes provided politicians with cover for higher spending without addressing the state's debt, which is being fed increasingly by government employee pensions and benefits.

Life is about tradeoffs. If someone benefits, someone else pays. That's a fact.

The monopoly that is the State of Illinois has gotten out of control, taking our money, and providing fewer and fewer valuable services for ordinary citizens. It's not a matter of throwing some politicians out or electing some new ones. It's a matter of Illinoisans expecting less from their government and demanding it do a lot less.

If you want organizations like Hull House to survive and thrive, free them from dependence on the state, and allow them to prove their worth to people who actually fulfill their charitable promises.

Filed under: Chicago institutions

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