Updates and Events

2024 Fiscal Symposium Recap and Resources

On February 29, 2024, the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability (CTBA) held its annual fiscal policy symposium at Roosevelt University. The symposium’s theme was “How the State Budget Can Be Used to Address Historical Inequities and Structural Racism.”  Roosevelt University was a particularly relevant site for this event. After all, the term “structural racism” was popularized by Charles V. Hamilton, a graduate of Roosevelt University, who wrote on the politics of Black Power in America during the 1960s and 1970s.

CTBA Board member William McNary welcomed the audience to the Symposium and set the stage for the discussion when he noted that “Everyone deserves equal access to political, legal, and economic power.” McNary emphasized that protesting inequity is not enough—policy has to change.

Recalling the battles of civil rights leaders from W. E. B. Du Bois and Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. to Rep. John Lewis, speakers at CTBA’s annual Fiscal Symposium cited the need for taking intentional, determined, and persistent efforts to redress the long-standing inequities created by structural racism in various core public systems, including education, healthcare, housing, and economic development. The symposium featured leaders of the Illinois Legislative Black Caucus and CTBA Executive Director Ralph Martire, who focused this discussion on what House Speaker Emmanuel “Chris” Welch said is the ongoing challenge to “redress inequities generally and racism specifically.”

Martire, in a speech titled, Public Policy and Structural Racism, highlighted the data that delineate the stark racial gaps in wealth and economic and educational access that still pertain today. He drew a line from a history of federally-sanctioned housing segregation policy to its far-reaching and long-lasting consequences on everything from economic opportunity generally to education specifically. In fact, in states like Illinois, which remain heavily dependent – 66% – on property taxes for K-12 education funding, historic segregation in housing policy resulted in the vast majority of Black students — 82% — living in property poor communities with underfunded schools. “Schools are supposed to create opportunities for everyone, but you can’t get there if school funding is tied to local wealth,” he said.

Meantime, Martire noted that Illinois public funding of higher education sharply declined for two decades, from covering 75% of the cost of attendance in 2003, to just 35% in 2021. He noted the resultant spike in tuition priced lower-income students out of attending university, which is a crucial pathway to high-quality jobs. Together, the hurdles in K-12 and higher education have produced an outcome that is unacceptable and predictable: a large income gap by race, with weekly average earnings of Blacks at just 75% of whites.

However, there are encouraging developments. The Evidence-Based Funding Formula – legislation which CTBA co-drafted and that passed in 2017 – is closing the funding gaps among schools and between races and ethnicities across Illinois, in large part because the state invested an additional $1.8 billion in K-12 public schools from FY 2018-FY 2024. While spending is trending up in higher education, it still remains over 40% below FY 2000 funding levels, in real terms.

“Making investments will benefit all of our students,” said Martire, “and prepare all for higher-paying jobs. We can never eliminate the stain of racism, but we can work together to solve the problem.”

In his keynote address, Speaker Welch, the first Black Speaker of the House, spoke to the importance of “playing an infinite game” – one built on resiliency and determination. He called the annual budget “a moral document” with targeted strategies and policies that can close the divide between communities. For the Legislative Black Caucus, these reforms – and future progress – will be built on four pillars:

  • Criminal Justice: Among key features of the SAFE-T Act are a focus on improving trust between communities and police; reducing mass incarceration; and eliminating cash bail—“we took an unjust system and fixed it.”
  • Education: “EBF is working, increasing opportunities for kids of all colors,” he said. What’s more, expansion of the Monetary Assistance Program (MAP) grant funding for low-income college students now means that everyone who applies receives some support.
  • Health Equity: The legislature has both expedited and expanded payments and financial support for hospitals serving communities most in need.
  • Economic Justice: From expanding EITC credits to closing corporate tax loopholes to increased spending for jobs for youth, the Caucus is playing the “infinite game” for opportunity and fairness. “Investments remain crucial to our communities who have heard ‘no’ too often,” said Rep. Welch.

Across each of the pillars, Welch pointed to data showing gains, from double-digit declines in violence in Chicago to the “historic” achievement of cash-bail reform. “We have proven we can lift up all Illinois together,” he said.

Following Speaker Welch’s address, Representative Carol Ammons (103rd District), Representative Kam Buckner (26th District) and Representative Will Davis (30th District) participated in a panel discussion moderated by Craig Dellimore, Political Editor of WBBM NewsRadio. The three key members of the Legislative Black Caucus, representing city, suburban and rural districts, all spoke of the value of evidence-based data in informing and supporting legislation that promotes opportunity for all and addresses systemic racism. The role of CTBA was highly praised.

“CTBA has been intimately involved in key reforms that have come out of Springfield,” said Rep. Ammons. “Our work as legislators is to change the outcome as a result of data.” She added, “The impact of CTBA has been enormous.” Said Rep. Davis: “CTBA is fair, balanced, and as unbiased as you can get.”

Despite progress in a number of education, economic, and justice areas, fighting systemic racism remains a constant battle. “We have not waged a real war on poverty,” said Rep. Buckner. “COVID shined a light on what was broken.”

A key – and increasingly difficult – task for legislators is to avoid using the budget as a tool to pit interests against each other, the panelists agreed. As Rep. Buckner put it: “State budgets are the bank accounts for democracy.” Added Rep. Davis: “When we are helping Black communities, we are helping all communities.”

The competition for resources has only become more intense with the financial cost of settling new arrivals. “We’re stuck in a dangerous discourse – us vs. them – Blacks, Latinx, new arrivals,” said Rep. Buckner.

When the call on resources also involves requests for public financing of stadiums for the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bears, the legislators were highly skeptical. “I can’t imagine how we are entertaining giving them a penny; we have too many real pressures,” said Rep. Ammons. Summed up Rep. Buckner, noting enormous unfunded needs in areas such as education: “Our communities are saying cut us in or cut it out.”

Thanks to Roosevelt University for recording the event and editing the video. If you couldn’t attend CTBA’s 2024 symposium, you can watch it at your leisure by clicking on the following link: CTBA 2024 Fiscal Symposium (youtube.com)



Related Reports: