Senator Steans on the Senate floorCHICAGO – As hospitals, police departments, judges, counselors and coroners grapple with an unprecedented opioid abuse crisis in Illinois, Gov. Bruce Rauner wants to slash funding for local mental health services and addiction treatment.

That’s counterintuitive and irresponsible, said Senator Heather Steans (D-Chicago).

“At a time when thousands of Illinoisans are dying across the state from the opioid epidemic, I do not believe it is prudent for the governor to cut funding for addiction and mental health services,” she said. “The opioid crisis is a serious and multi-faceted problem that requires substantial funding.”

According to an Illinois Department of Public Health report published in December, nearly 2,000 Illinoisans died from an opioid-related overdose in 2016, an 82 percent increase since 2013. More people died from opioids than homicides or car crashes in Illinois, the report stated.

The governor’s budget proposes the following cuts:

•    Community mental health services — $48.4 million
•    Addiction treatment for Medicaid-eligible — $16.1 million
•    Addiction prevention services — $483,000

Steans noted that access to medical marijuana can reduce reliance on opioids and help stem the abuse and overdose epidemic in Illinois. A report from Aclara Research revealed that 67 percent of respondents stopped using opioids after using medical cannabis.

“I believe that expanding access to cannabis could reduce the negative impacts of the opioid epidemic,” Steans said. “I think the governor needs to rethink his budget priorities and his policy stance on this issue.”

Looming junk-bond status
Illinois currently sits just a step above junk-bond status. Since Gov. Rauner has taken office, our state’s bond rating has been downgraded seven times. Moody’s Investors Service as well as S&P Global Ratings have warned that Illinois could fall into junk bond status on July 1, 2017. No state in the history of the nation has ever been downgraded to junk-bond status.

A credit downgrade means that the state will have more difficulty borrowing money in the future and will likely be forced to pay higher interest rates on money it does borrow.

The investment firms noted that the state’s backlog of bills and pension debt is a key reason for the downgrade. The backlog of bills has crept above $15 billion, and the state’s pension debt is $130 billion. Moody’s noted that Illinois’ unfunded pension liability for five of its retirement programs increased by 25 percent in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2016.

To stabilize the rating, Moody’s said lawmakers need to agree on a budget that “more closely aligns revenues and spending, without relying on unsustainable fiscal measures.”

The state’s first general obligation bond payment of FY18 is due on July 3.

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