State Rep. LaShawn Ford (8th), along with various West Side activist groups, is urging for any dollars from a state tax increase to be allocated to Austin and other underserved communities.

On Saturday, Ford hosted a press conference to advocate for a tax increase. Ford – together with members of the clergy, organized labor, human service agencies, parents and students – asked the state legislature to direct emergency revenue to underserved communities in the event that taxes are increased. Groups at the rally included the Westside Ministers Coalition, South Austin Coalition Community Council, and the Westside Health Authority. Other organizations present were the Safer Foundation, AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees), and Chicago Area Project.

The press conference took place at the still-under-construction Christ the King Jesuit College Prep School, 5088 W. Jackson. The $28 million facility is scheduled to open in November.

Ford’s opening statement acknowledged that Jesuit College Prep which is also providing jobs for people in Austin.

“This school proves that the people of Austin are interested in education and we must build a public high school for the taxpayers in Austin. … I thank everyone for coming out and answering the call for a fair and just income tax increase. And a fair and just distribution of funds to the communities that need it the most and all across this state. This is not easy but this is what we want to do we want to make sure that everyone get the word and make sure the government knows that this is what we have to do.”

Ford added that with the many social, health and economic disparities going on, the streets are becoming less safe.

“We have to let the government know we not only support an income tax increase, we support an increase that will benefit the underserved communities,” he said. “So we are here to say we want and need reform of the distribution of the services, jobs and access to opportunities that will lead to better school systems, more jobs and safer streets for all of us. Let’s protect our kids, let’s love and educate our kids, not murder our kids. Let’s put people to work so they can pay taxes, and not in jail where they are a burden to Illinois taxpayers.”

A series of speakers from various organizations came out to support Ford. President of Christ the King, Fr. Christopher J. Devon, expressed support for helping communities such as Austin.

“Those who are compromised because their rights are not heard, those who need to be protected and given education and all the social services that are required – when there is an equal tax, people on the West Side deserve their fair share,” he said.

Other representatives from various groups also spoke.

West Side Ministers Coalition: Rev. Louis Flowers said he would like to see more money come back to the community. “The contractors are pushing the performance schools but in the process they are erasing the public schools. We’ve lost all of the support services that the public schools need. I believe the public schools can put our just as well as the other schools, if they had the proper funding and resources to do the job.”

Anthony Cole, of the Illinois Alcoholism and Drug Dependence Association, said: “At Haymarket Center, we serve about 16,000 clients a year. We recently got a letter stating they were going to cut us by 74 percent in our state funding. That is over $7 million. That means we have to turn away over 5,000 clients. To deny 5,000, addiction is a health care issue. Addiction impacts homes. Half the people that are homeless have addiction problems. So we have a program that helps recovering people get jobs and get the skills they need, and that is being cut. This is not right.”

Pam Rodriguez, executive vice president of TASC (Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities), said: “I want to say our voices are being heard in Springfield. We had 5,000 people show up at a rally. We shut down the state capitol for the first time ever. People are saying they can’t afford taxes, they don’t want to pay additional taxes. And the reason I’m arguing against that is because on July 1 we are laying off 51 people. That is 51 people who pay taxes. Who is going to pay those taxes when they stop working? … We have to pay attention to what is happening. We are not just services taking money. We cannot afford to not raise taxes. We have to keep those jobs in the community.” 

Jacqueline Reed, of West Side Health Authority, said: “Income tax increases will allow the revenue so that we can have equity in school funding. I’m tired of seeing our talent wasted. We see what happens with talent about Michael Jackson. He had folks behind him. We need to get behind our children. We got a state representative here who brings the bacon home. Help us get the income tax passed so that our children and our community can have equality.”