Rosanna Márquez, of Chicago, AARP Illinois president, hears the concerns of older residents. Photo by Alyssa Schukar.

By Kelly Ganski

At 59, Rosanna Márquez of Chicago has the same concerns as other 50-plus voters.

As the AARP Illinois president, Márquez is in a unique position to hear from older residents about issues important to them. Turns out they’re the same issues she’s passionate about: taxation of retirement income, home- and community-based services and, mainly, the Illinois fiscal crisis.

“I’ve heard a lot of seniors say, ‘We’re so concerned, and we’re so frustrated, and we’re fairly scared about what’s going on with the state budget and what the implication is for us as retirees,’ ” Márquez said.

On Nov. 6, voters will choose a governor, state legislators and other officials. AARP wants to make sure older voters are well informed about where lawmakers stand on vital issues.

AARP Illinois and its volunteer advocates launched the Enough Is Enough campaign last year to educate citizens on the severity of the budget crisis and to demand long-term fiscal change.

“We want older residents to understand the tremendous impact the fiscal crisis is having on Illinois itself,” said Ryan Gruenenfelder, AARP advocacy and outreach director. “There’s currently $9 billion in unpaid bills, which would be higher if the state hadn’t borrowed nearly $6.5 billion in bonds in November to lower the backlog. But that also increased the Illinois deficit.”

Fears over taxes, pensions
Older residents are wondering whether this will result in higher taxes, the loss of their pensions and the taxation of retirement income, Gruenenfelder said.

“We now have a state budget—but that does not mean we are out of the woods,” says the campaign website (enoughisenough.aarp.org). “Residents are paying the highest property taxes in the nation, paying increasing local and state fees, higher rates for utilities and struggling with an increasing cost of living.”

The website offers links to news reports detailing the budget crisis, videos of leaders discussing the legislature’s inability to fix the state’s fiscal system, and suggestions on how all Illinoisians can get involved (including calling or emailing lawmakers, sharing information on social media and attending public events).

AARP Illinois also wants voters to know candidates’ stances on the availability of senior services, which Gov. Bruce Rauner (R) has proposed cutting. So far, AARP has helped block that proposal, Gruenenfelder said.

“Illinois should be supporting programs that keep people in their homes and communities,” said Gruenenfelder, noting that in-home care costs the state much less than institutional care.

An AARP report at aarp.org/ilvotingrecord2017 details lawmakers’ positions on issues in last year’s legislative session.

“Sometimes when you lobby in Springfield for AARP, it can be frustrating, but it can also be very rewarding,” said Richard Christiansen, 81, of Alsip, one of 31 volunteer advocates who compiled the voting record.

“To see in black and white how your local elected officials voted on matters of importance to you is an effective eye opener and quite motivational,” he added.

AARP does not endorse candidates, but meets with them to learn and publicize their views.

“We want to do whatever we can to make sure Illinoisans are educated on the issues so they can make the best choice for themselves,” Gruenenfelder said.

Interested in becoming a volunteer advocate? Email aarpil@aarp.org or call 866-448-3613 toll-free.

Kelly Ganski is a writer living in Bartlett, Ill.