WE ARE ILLINOIS
Lawmakers know what to do; doubtful they'll do it
By Chuck Sweeny - Rockford Register-Star Senior Editor
The Legislature returns to Springfield this week for three days of nothing much as far as I’ve been able to determine. The lawmakers will get their per diem payments and return home, not to come back until January.
And 2012 being an election year, there isn’t much hope that controversial work will get done then. Can Illinois wait until 2013 before problems of epic proportions created by a generation of lawmakers and governors are addressed?
I’m not talking about speed bumps like the stalemate between gambling expansion fans and Gov. Pat Quinn. He has effectively killed the bill by refusing to endorse a provision to put slot machines at horse racing tracks. Propping up race tracks was crucial to success of the bill in May because it brought along downstate lawmakers concerned about the failing health of Illinois’ horse-raising industry. They have no interest in supporting casinos in Rockford, Danville and Chicagoland. And owners of existing casinos do not want competition.
I am talking, rather, about real problems like the state’s $14 billion debt, the worst-in-the-nation $85 billion unfunded pension liability and the billions owed to businesses and nonprofits that have performed services and provided goods to the state but must wait months to get paid.
I could ask you all to suggest solutions to these situations, but it won’t matter because we do not have direct democracy. We have representative government. We elect people to solve problems. Unfortunately we’ve been electing people who promise to give us stuff by putting them on a giant credit card. What needs to be done is simple, but it requires courage to make hard choices and risk re-election. Courage is an unknown word in Springfield.
First, we must not raise taxes again. Whenever government builds up a surplus, it spends all of it and then some. Democrats raised the state income tax 67 percent in January, generating $7 billion in new revenue. Instead of using the money to catch up on the overdue bills and help balance the budget, it went to pay pensions.
We must clean up state government. Anyone who thinks Illinois is not awash in massive waste, fraud and financial abuse should contemplate three names: Rezko, Cellini and Levine. Those are only three guys who were caught and convicted of dishonest graft. “Honest graft” goes on every hour of every day in this state. Billions of dollars are wasted.
Our leaders must enact sweeping pension reform and level with the employees: “You know that pension they promised you? Well, we never made the payments, so the only way you’ll get anything is to agree to pay more and get less.”
Leaders must restructure Illinois government for maximum efficiency. What services does the state really need to provide, and what can be jettisoned? Instead of starving nonprofit agencies that provide a myriad of services on the state’s behalf, Illinois the state should rely more on nonprofits like Rosecrance and Lutheran Social Services of Illinois. Because they have other sources of funding, and frequently have a higher calling, they provide more bang for the buck than state agencies can.
Leaders must cut spending across the board by 10 percent. This is the only fair way to cut. What isn’t fair is for the governor to arbitrarily close mental health centers while demanding lawmakers give him $2 billion more to spend.
The state must create a friendlier climate for business investment. Despite minor reforms we still have an anti-business workers’ compensation system. Much more must be done. And instead of waiting for a major company to threaten to leave the state to offer incentives to stay, Illinois should reduce its business taxes, which are highest in the nation. We need a bigger pool of taxpayers, not higher taxes on people already here. We should also let the personal income tax increase sunset.
Few of these things go conveniently in a campaign brochure. Everyone wants to “Lead the fight” to improve this or expand that service. Nobody wants to “Lead the fight” to reduce government spending except in the murky abstract. Ever try to get a conservative to talk in detail about what he’d cut? It’s like asking a liberal how he’d pay for all the new services he wants.
If substantial change isn’t made soon, Illinois will become the Greece of the USA. And then what?
I like to fantasize that German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, the only world leaders with any guts, will arrive at O’Hare to impose an austerity program on the Land of Lincoln.
SOURCE: Rockford Register-Star
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