At the heart of our work in government is a basic responsibility to protect our most vulnerable citizens — our children, our seniors, people with disabilities and those who struggle with physical and mental illness. This responsibility is a moral obligation. But it is also an important principle of sound fiscal policy.

In truth, we all pay when the basic needs of our citizens go unmet. A reduction in state resources for young people in the foster care system, poor people on Medicaid, and the increasing number of people in our state who struggle with mental illness, does not mean that those citizens affected will stop needing help. It just means that the burden of providing that help will be shifted to our counties and communities, or borne by all of us when the services become unavailable, and most acutely by those who are denied the services they need.

In the communities we represent, mental illness is a profound public health problem. In November, 1.4 million voters in Cook County recognized this reality by voting for increased state funding for mental health services.

But Governor Rauner proposes to cut $50.4 million from Specialized Mental Health Rehabilitation Facilities. Commonly referred to as “Smurfs,” these facilities provide needed crisis stabilization services and an opportunity for individuals wrestling with mental illness to transition back to community-based living with supportive services that reduce the risk of homelessness.

Without the availability of services in the community, individuals will be forced to rely upon services provided by our township governments, hospitals and jails. Such an influx would place great strain on the budgets of Cook County, and the villages, cities and townships we represent. The resulting burden on our local property taxes would increase to an even greater level.

In short, the Governor’s proposed budget cuts pose serious risks for local taxpayers. At a time when more and more of our citizens are keenly aware of the toll our mental health crisis is taking on some of our most vulnerable communities, we must work to avoid the cuts proposed by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Don Harmon represents the 39th District in the state senate. Richard Boykin represents the Cook County Board’s 1st District. Both include Oak Park.

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