In an effort to help fund his healthcare plan, Gov. Rod Blagojevich sliced $463 million dollars from the state's budget, which included cutting grants to help prevent HIV transmission.
The governor announced his veto last week, which included eliminating all earmarks for HIV/AIDS programs and cutting $500,000 for HIV testing expansion. HIV prevention grants earmarked by legislators like Democratic Reps. Greg Harris and Sara Feigenholtz were among the 1,500 projects he labeled 'pork' and 'special pet projects.' This slicing and dicing of the state budget will have a severe impact on local HIV/AIDS organizations and thousands living with the disease.
Among the 'pork' that was cut: $70,000 for Better Existence with HIV ( BEHIV ) ; $50,000 for Vital Bridges; $100,000 for Howard Brown towards HIV prevention; $70,000 for Chicago House towards housing and job training; and more than $154,000 for Bonaventure House. Meanwhile, Blagojevich made sure to push through 3.5 percent salary increases for statewide elected officers, just one week after approving a 9.6 percent salary increase.
BEHIV's executive director Eric Nelson told Windy City Times that what he finds most 'frustrating and unbelievable' is the way the governor chose what he would eliminate. Nelson felt that the Democrats' 'pet projects' were eliminated, while Republicans' were left alone in order to curry favor.
'There is always so much more to the story than he lets on,' Nelson said, pointing out that a $500,000 bike trail project for Romeoville that was approved could have covered all the HIV prevention and education 'pork' that was sliced.
'And we're all stuck in the crossfire of this political game,' he continued.
The funds earmarked for BEHIV were to go towards HIV prevention outreach at local schools. The organization is able to reach 12,000 students a year, and now has to scramble to figure out where the money to fund the program will have to come from.
AIDS Foundation of Chicago's Director of Government Relations John Peller said that the governor shouldn't have traded nearly $500 million of pet projects that included HIV prevention and education and school-based healthcare in order to support his current healthcare plan, Illinois Covered.
'It's a real Catch 22 between healthcare expansion or targeted programs and community services,' Peller said. 'But what it comes down to is we need both. These priorities have been pitted against each other.'