Illinois General Assembly Democratic Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (A.B. ’68, M.A. ’73) spoke on the state’s current financial impasse at an event hosted by the U of C Women’s Alliance at a law firm in the Loop last Thursday.
Currie, who is the first woman to hold the office of majority leader in the Assembly and has served on the Assembly for 32 years, represents portions of Hyde Park, South Shore, Kenwood, Woodlawn, and South Chicago.
Although Currie was optimistic about the state’s financial future, she said divided politics is one of the biggest dangers to our government.
“Everything is black and white,” said Currie, who sponsored a Governor’s bill last session that would have helped balance the state budget but fell short due to divisions in the General Assembly. “People have no reason to listen to what other people say, and there is a general unwillingness from politicians to roll up their sleeves and get to work solving issues that people are most worried about.”
Audience members asked questions ranging in topic from Illinois’s $13 billion debt to Springfield’s upcoming plans for economic recovery. Currie was hopeful that the state would find ways to generate additional sources of revenue, which would gradually improve its fiscal situation.
For instance, in the last Assembly session she supported Governor Pat Quinn’s proposal to raise the Illinois income tax by one percent, and Currie proposed on Thursday that the State could save a significant amount of money by doing more correctional work in local communities and not state-funded prisons.
A conversation about Chicago politics wouldn’t be complete without mentioning corruption, and Currie argued that former Illinois governor Rod R. Blagojevich shares the largest burden of the responsibility for the state’s debt. He failed to exercise “any form of fiscal restraint” during his time in office, she said.
Currie urged audience members to be patient and reminded them that change in Springfield would come gradually. She pointed to the slow implementation of major pieces of legislation in the General Assembly—tougher domestic violence and sexual assault laws, and a statewide mandate for pre-kindergarten—as evidence of how major legislation takes time to take effect.
“People are going to have to wait,” she said. “After all, you can’t rebuild Rome in one day.”