By David Stanczak
No Neck and his Democratic buddies patted themselves on the back and told us how happy we should all be now that we have a “balanced” budget for the first time in years. Yes, all that had stood between Illinois and the solution of all its governmental problems was Bruce Rauner, and now he’s gone. No Neck’s election was the laxative that cured our legislative constipation and now things are flowing freely in Springfield.
A lot was done in the last legislative session. Whether the pats on the back are warranted, or would be better applied with a lot more force to a lower part of the body, is a matter of opinion.
C.S. Lewis said, “We all want progress. But progress means getting nearer to the place where you want to be. And if you have taken a wrong turning, going forward goes not get you any nearer. If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about turn and walking back to the right road. And in that case, the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man. We’ve all seen this when doing arithmetic. If I have started a sum the wrong way, the sooner I admit this and go back and start again, the faster I shall get on. There is nothing progressive about being pig-headed and refusing to admit a mistake.”
There were several things that had put Illinois on the wrong road prior to No Neck’s inauguration: the gap between the political class and the common citizen; the daily growing elephant in the room that is the unfunded pension liability; the notion that citizens and their wallets are a bottomless piggy bank that can be tapped into at any time; and the related notion that persons keep the income they earn only at the sufferance of the political class. None of these ills have lessened, and if Illinois was already on Lewis’s wrong road, we have now gotten further along it.
The gap between the rulers and the ruled. Several years ago, the General Assembly figured out how to vote themselves more money without having to do so publicly, and without the inconvenient delay of the increase until the office-holder’s next term of office. They enacted a law that made pay increases automatic unless the General Assembly took affirmative action to reject it. This year, not only did they not reject the pay increase, they commented on how well they had earned the extra money with all the progress they had made this year. A large amount of that progress consisted of taking more money from us by increasing taxes and fees, doubling the gas tax, upping the license plate fees by 50% and creating new categories of things to tax (like drastically expanding gambling and recreational marijuana). We know where part of the extra money they’re taking from us is going: legislative salaries. Not even Robin Hood charged the victims for his effort in robbing them.
The pension elephant continues to grow. Nowhere in the orgy of legislation in the last term was there even a mention of the pension problem. There was no legislation to change the content of the pension code, which is driving the state to insolvency; nor was there any effort to put a measure on the ballot to change the Illinois Constitution to allow a more aggressive approach to the pension problem. No, the only measure they put on the ballot was one that could allow them to collect even more money through a progressive income tax. And No Neck even proposed in his budget kicking the pension can down the road yet another year by shorting this year’s scheduled pension contribution. When confronted with an unexpected increase in revenue this year, it was earmarked to reduce the state’s unpaid bills. Not a bad choice, but it’s not the elephant.
Then there is the attitude toward personal wealth. Everyone knew that No Neck would structure the proposed rates for the graduated income tax so as to bribe enough people to vote for the referendum because it would reduce their own taxes (and throw those “rich” people under the bus). But No Neck far surpassed even the most cynical expectations. 97%?! Does anyone seriously think that upping the tax rates on 3% of the population is going to, not only offset the tax reductions in lower brackets, but produce such a deluge of money that it will solve the state’s financial problems? If any of you do, please see me about some prime ocean-front property in Arizona.
I believe that the tax exhaustion felt by citizens is not the level of taxes per se, but the fact that tax increases don’t visibly improve anything. The pension mess is still there; the bills are still unpaid; the state is still bleeding residents and tax base; Illinois still has one of the worst business climates in the country; and still has the slowest economic growth rate in the Midwest. None of the recent diarrheal flow of legislation just passed does anything about those problems.
But it does suggest a plausible rationale for the recreational marijuana: the ruling class is hoping that legal pot will sufficiently anesthetize the taxpayers to the tax increases so that they will get stoned and stay instead of leaving.
David Stanczak, a WJBC commentator since 1995, came to Bloomington in 1971. He served as the City of Bloomington’s first full-time legal counsel for over 18 years, before entering private practice. He is currently employed by the Snyder Companies and continues to reside in Bloomington with his family.
The opinions expressed within WJBC’s Voices are solely those of the Voices’ author, and are not necessarily those of WJBC or Cumulus Media, Inc.