Vote Us Out Nov. 2
If legislators adjourn after doing so little, they’ll be asking citizens to oust them from office
Saturday, May 1, 2010
They haven't sworn off borrowing. Or reformed how they spend money. Or fixed leaky ethics laws. Or given employers reasons to grow jobs here. Instead, Illinois legislators have spent four months enjoying the salaries and perks you lavish on them — and now they're scheming to start a long summer vacation. This second post-Blagojevich year of charging so many taxpayers for so much dereliction of duty will be complete if lawmakers flutter a banner of surrender from the Capitol dome: "Vote us out Nov. 2."
You didn't know about the vacation? Legislators evidently exhausted by another session of squandered opportunities hope to wrap up work by Friday. To do so, they may slap together a budget that puts all of us even more billions of dollars in debt: Lawmakers would borrow those billions to cover basic state operations. That's like taking out a mortgage to buy diapers and toothpaste. They would do this because once again they're too weak to limit their spending to the amount of revenue the rest of us send them.
This new borrowing, with no spending reforms, would be a slap at taxpayers. It would doom employers and workers to pay years of interest and principal on still more debt. It would rob money from educating children and providing health care. Why? To pay for yet another year when lawmakers flat-out refuse to change how they spend the billions they already have.
These two years of stubborn failure to streamline and reinvent Illinois reflect Democratic leaders' desperate belief: that someday a revived economy will give them enough new tax money to pay off their deficit spending, their massive borrowing and their unfunded pension obligations. Until that fantasy comes true, why not borrow even more?
Such temptation risks another self-inflicted consequence: rising interest costs that Illinois must pay to sell bonds. In an interview Thursday, Ted Hampton, a public finance executive with Moody's rating service, said he wonders if lawmakers here are willing to exert self-discipline. "We have a negative outlook on Illinois," Hampton said. "We're concerned. And if no one acts, that concern will grow." Here's what we heard between Hampton's opaque lines: Lawmakers are deciding right now whether Moody's and its rivals further slash what's already the second-worst bond rating in the U.S.
That Gov. Pat Quinn, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton even would consider more borrowing suggests they've spent too much time in their insular state government beehive. Americans coast to coast are seething over high government spending and the eruption of public debt that is burying taxpayers. Yet incumbent lawmakers evidently bent on replicating the ruination of California and Michigan here in Illinois seem to think they can do so and be re-elected Nov. 2. Many, in fact, seem to think of little else.
Voters, though, may not be as stupid as legislators hope. We hear from more and more citizens who realize that tax-wary employers think twice about expanding in a state destined to dun its businesses and workers for its devastating debts and pension obligations.
No wonder, then, that Illinois has lost almost half a million jobs in 10 years. No wonder Illinois ranks 48th in job creation.
Yes, we've said some of this before. But now is the moment — if legislators adjourn after doing so little — when these incumbents seize full ownership of the indebtedness, the unsustainable pension benefits, the high-business-tax stature that for two decades has condemned Illinois to trail the U.S. in job growth.
We've seen this movie before. As sessions wind down, small-think legislators and their apologists focus less on addressing crises than on going home. Another borrowing binge now will signal that the Democratic fix is to act clueless now — and to try raising taxes after the election.
That ploy entraps taxpayers in a zero-sum game: Because lawmakers won't restructure how they spend gazillions on Medicaid or on pensions for current employees — let alone end college tuition waivers for children of their cronies — you have to restructure. Just send them more of your money.
"Vote us out Nov. 2" is an unorthodox campaign lyric. But we suspect millions of Illinoisans will be dancing to the beat.