In what could shape up to be the biggest rally in Illinois Statehouse history, upwards of 15,000 teachers and other state employees are marching around the state capitol, blocking the entrance to the house chambers and chanting in front of lawmakers offices to protest statewide spending cuts.
The marchers -- a combination of teachers, school district workers, social workers, retirees, union workers and the like -- are incensed about Gov. Pat Quinn's proposed budget cuts, which would dramatically cut education spending. The only alternative, Quinn says, is to raise taxes, those at the rally say, so be it.
"This is about the future of the state of Illinois," said Meg Wear, a second grade teacher Evergreen Park Elementary who traveled to Springfield for the rally.
Fired-up speakers from unions representing state workers and teachers and advocates from social service organizations urged the crowd to turn to the Statehouse. They shouted slogans such as "Show some guts!"
Organizers of the event worry Illinois’ $12.8 billion budget deficit will lead to steep cuts in government services, education spending and jobs. In the spirit of protest they've asked that no politicians be allowed to speak at the event.
"This is time for the people to speak and tell how this budget proposal is going to hurt the people of Illinois," said Gerardo Cardenas, a senior manager of communications for AARP. "We're disappointed at the way the legislature and the governor have reacted to a problem that has been brewing for years."
Education groups have projected that as many as 20,000 workers would be laid off as a result of the proposal and Chicago Public Schools chief says it could mean thousands of job losses in Chicago alone.
Last month, Governor Pat Quinn called for a 33 percent increase in the state personal income tax rate (from 3 to 4 percent) but the idea has met with resistance from lawmakers. A previous attempt at a similar tax hike in 2009 failed.
State Senator Bill Brady, Quinn’s Republican opponent in this year’s general election, says on his website that raising taxes is the last thing Illinois needs. He suggests reducing state government spending by 10 percent over 10 years.