STOP FRIGGIN' UNFUNDING ALL THE USEFUL THINGS IN THE STATE SO YOU CAN PROVE YOUR BALLS ARE BIGGER THAN MIKE MADIGAN'S. First of all, Mike Madigan was playing politics when you were in diapers. Second, he's just better at it than you, okay? We all get it by now.
Blagojevich is threatening to cut 450 jobs from the University of Illinois County Extensions, which are a major part of being a LAND GRANT UNIVERSITY and the home of crucial programs that serve farmers, gardeners, the elderly, and our state's most vulnerable youth. Blago wants to cut these May 1, so that he can twist the screws on lawmakers to try to force them to give him money for things the state can't possibly fund in a recession and most voters probably don't want that badly.
"The Extension serves an estimated 2.5 million residents each year, including nearly 300,000 youths who take part in 4-H programs. It has 77 offices located throughout the state," reports the Decatur Herald & Review:
Faced with what he claims is a $750 million shortfall in funds, the governor has begun threatening to financially squeeze a number of state programs in hopes of convincing the Illinois House to give him more money.
He earlier said June payments to state universities may cut. Soil and water conservation districts also could lose $11 million. Some vehicles used by the Illinois Department of Corrections aren't being repaired.
Lawmakers have been reluctant to give the governor more money, fearing he will use the extra cash to expand health care programs, rather than pay off a growing backlog of existing bills to hospitals, nursing homes and other state vendors.
The Gov has already been playing politics with 4H programs and youth educators (discussed on this blog before). He's bound and determined to cut programs in Illinois that serve vulnerable youth in order to provide them with health care, apparently. Perhaps he's unaware that the Extensions run the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program, one of the most successful health education programs in the state, particularly with respect to helping educate kids at high risk for obesity about educational choices.
(And I'm all for universal single-payer health care, but I don't think that cutting successful programs is the way to fund it, and I frankly don't think that this governor is remotely capable of putting anything nearly so complicated into practice without a) botching the job completely and b) attempting to sell contracts related to it under the table and getting caught. You can be corrupt and efficient or honest and inefficient in Illinois, but you can't be corrupt and inefficient, and apparently Blago missed that memo.)
What makes me extra-angry is that the County Extension program is one of the most brilliant innovations in U.S. education and has been copied around the world. For those who are unaware, Land Grant Universities, such as the University of Illinois, were given federal land under the 1862 and 1890 Morrill Acts (Lincoln signed the 1862 Act, just to put the patron saint of Illinois on my side here). The universities sold that land to fund programs that would help the working class get a "practical education." The Smith-Lever Act of 1914 mandated the foundation of County Extensions, whose purpose was the provide research-based information on agriculture and home economics to citizens throughout the state, extending the research and scholarship of the Land Grant Universities to ALL citizens of the state. The USDA provides funding that states are required to match, and the enterprise is a cooperative one between the USDA and the state's Land Grant school.
The County Extension is one of the ways that the University of Illinois truly serves the entire citizenry of Illinois, not just the privileged few who have the time and means to attend college. Those tax dollars funding scholarship at the University? That scholarship gets put to use by citizens around the state through the County Extension. Why is the Midwest the world's most productive farming region? It's due in no small part to the speedy adoption of scientific research on farming disseminated to the region's farmers for nearly a century through the County Extension system.
Today the Extension system is not only at the forefront of agricultural research, but also runs leading programs on nutrition, health, obesity prevention, natural resource conservation; does major outreach programs to high-risk youth; and provides a variety of services for the elderly. (You can learn more about what's available in Peoria here.)
So please contact your legislators and the governor's office (though you might want to call HIM from a borrowed cell phone with a 312 area code so he'll pay attention -- God knows he has enough trouble finding Springfield; he might not even be aware of the existence of the rest of the state south of I-80) and beg them to stop eviscerating a program that has done perhaps more for the state of Illinois than any other.
**Full disclosure: My husband and I have participated in a variety of County Extension programs; I did the Master Gardener training and now volunteer through that program, Mr. McGee took a class on salsa-making, etc. I now serve on the Board for the Peoria Extension. I'm speaking for myself here, not the Extension, because I saw the Decatur story and I was flaming pissed.
Governor's office: 217-782-0244 or 312-814-2121
When you call, tell the person answer the phone that you oppose cutting the budget for county extension programs. They basically make tally marks for and against; and any single phone call is assumed to stand for 10 or so other people who feel strongly but didn't call and 100 other people who feel semi-strongly and will consider the issue when voting.