The Southtown Star

A disappointing look behind the curtain

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Today is the last day of Illinois Fiscal Year 2010. Tomorrow, July 1, launches a brand new budget year.

Nobody's celebrating a fresh new start at the State Capitol, because all that hard-working Illinois taxpayers have paid in this year through state income taxes, sales taxes, business, registration and license fees as well as fuel taxes just isn't enough to meet our outstanding obligations.

We start FY 2011 $13 billion in red ink and billions behind in unpaid pension debt. Bond buyers just rated our state's budget in worse condition than nearly bankrupt California, and just slightly less of a risk than the struggling nation of Iraq.

Regular Joes are gathering in town halls, parks and city squares, answering the never-enough crowd's demands for "More, more, more!" with hand-drawn signs of "Taxes enough already!"

Indeed, Illinois is now in such a dark and seemingly bottomless financial pit that those who got us here are beginning to feel political heat.

That's the only possible explanation for why House Speaker Michael Madigan uncharacteristically broke a 30-year near silence to answer SouthtownStar columnist Phil Kadner's invite to explain to us Illinois' current financial crisis. Madigan, who also runs Illinois Democratic Party, used the valuable opportunity to point the blame finger at Republicans.

Madigan's opining lends us valuable insight into his worldview and how he has led this state for almost three decades - through several Republican and Democratic governors, countless lawmakers and appointees. He's become a political legend in his own time, consistently promoting the power of government, collectivism, highly regulated commerce through his trademarkable pragmatic means, doing "whatever it takes" to hold tight to his powerful reins.

Reading Madigan's explanation about our state's crisis mode was de-mystifying. It revealed to Illinoisans their legendary Wizard of Oz, the man behind the curtain. Sadly, he's a disappointment. He's not as fearsome and cunning as his reputation led us to believe.

Our wizard is like a battle-worn general proud of his medals for years of service, but whose war strategy and political savvy have grown outdated and irrelevant. Even worse, his unchecked power appears to be ultimately leading to his entrusted territory's demoralization. Then, in a fit of rage over what his kingdom has become due to his policies, Madigan blames those who warned of impending doom. He points to his newly emboldened political opponents and demands they bow to his will.

John Tillman, of the Illinois Policy Institute, describes the situation this way:

"Naturally, Speaker Madigan would like to blame others, but the people of Illinois are looking for leaders who will lead rather than blame others during this crisis. The fact is he has been speaker of the Illinois House and chairman of the Democratic Party for decades. Speaker Madigan is the only constant in state politics while governors and members of the General Assembly come and go."

Tillman points to Madigan's unleashed power as cultivating our state's reputation for corruption and political entitlement - both enemies of prosperity for all.

"By looking at Illinois and how it fares with the other states, we can see how Speaker Madigan's tenure has served the average person in Illinois who is not a member of a union, is not a member of the plaintiff's bar and does not do business with the state."

The resulting situation is troubling, especially since Madigan continues to wield power over the red-inked state Legislature and Illinois' controlling political party. Madigan has no threat to his own re-election. We may not have yet sunk as far as we could go.

But there is hope, and it lies in us, the voters and taxpayers of Illinois.

Madigan's years of reign are the result of his and his party's core belief in government control and peer pressure to produce a utopian state. He worked hard to perfect the political power system now in place in order to maintain control. But his core belief system is flawed, and we, as average Joes, are compelled to return this state to what works. We are charged with the responsibility of rebuilding.
What core issues should Illinois taxpayers demand for this rebuilding?

Illinois and overall American "LIFT" principles - Limited government, Individual rights, Free markets and Traditional values - are what cultivated such tremendous wealth in America. Liberty, freedom, responsibility and justice are the rock solid ideals that must be interwoven into the reconstruction phase post-Madigan.

That will be our job - to insist on those basic American principles in our government, to be active in our local elections to make sure the new chapter's leaders adhere to those ideals and be willing to step into the public service arenas ourselves if the opportunities present themselves.

We've seen behind the curtain of Illinois' legislative power, and that glimpse should shake us to the core. We should not be able to return to our lives unchanged. Our futures, our children's future and our nation's future depend upon what we as Illinoisans do with what we have learned by reading Speaker Madigan's explanation.

It's time to roll up our sleeves in this new fiscal year and get to work cleaning up the mess we've allowed on our watch. Time to stop the finger-pointing and name-calling. We have no other choice.