In ancient Sparta, Spartan mothers commanded their soldier sons, â€œCome home victorious, or come home on your shield.â€
This was the old version of the British Empire’s declaration, â€œVictory or Death.â€ The modern Illinois version of this refrain is contained in hundreds of recent e-mails, letters and calls to my office from recently concerned Illinois constituents. Citizens and editorial boards warned, â€œDon’t leave Springfield until you produce a responsible balanced budget.â€
So, what did the ruling majority do? In the Senate, the same folks who have brought us this chaos and misery over the past eight years passed the Adjournment Resolution at 6:44 p.m. on May 7, 2010â€”and headed home with 24 days of work left before the rules change, giving more power to the minority.
Knowing my 250,000 constituents’ sentiment, I publicly requested an on-the-record rollcall of those who agreed that we should adjourn. I voted â€œHeck No.â€
Here is where we stand: On May 6, 2010, at 8 p.m., the Ruling Majority presented its FY 6-30-2011 2,300-page budget; just one hour later, at 9 p.m., they convened the Senate Appropriations Committee to answer questions and hear concerns.
I asked the sponsor of the budget, whom I like and respect as a person, â€œSenator, have you read this budget?â€ No. When I asked members of the Ruling Majority sitting across from me, â€œHave you read this 2,300-page budget?â€ Again, no. â€œHas anyone on this committeeâ€”or in this roomâ€”read this budget?â€ The answer was, â€œNo.â€
On the brink of bankruptcy, another contortion of fiscal irresponsibility.
During the senate floor debate that raged with unusual rancor until 1:15 a.m. the next morning, as gently and politely as possible, I reminded my fellow legislators, â€œWe each swear an oath to uphold the Illinois Constitution. That Constitution contains a provision that requires us to adopt an annual balanced budget. This budget is not anywhere close to balanced, i.e. the expenditures are not less than or equal to the projected revenues.â€
While people back home desperately struggle with their finances, putting terrible strains on their families, while 225,000 more Illinois jobs have been lost in only the past year, while public policies produce 12.4 percent unemployment in our state, the governor and ruling majorities propose that the state government spending upon itself will increase next year by $1.8 billion. According to the budget sponsor’s testimony in committee and on the Senate floor, total spending will increase from $32.1 billion in 2010 to $33.9 billion in 2011.
One of my colleagues mumbled under his breath, â€œThis all stinks.â€
Although I staunchly disagree with their conclusion to ultimately raise income taxes by 67 percent and to raise sales taxes by billions by applying sales tax to many services for the first time in state history, I respect that senate Democrats at least took action during this General Assembly consistent with their philosophy. Despite the chants of 15,000 protesting public employees earlier this year, â€œRaise my taxes. Raise my taxes,â€ the consistent feedback from the majority of my constituents is, â€œLive within your means without a tax increaseâ€”just like I have to do.â€
So, you would think that the proposed budget would contain substantial spending cuts, as Governor Quinn has claimed. However, again according to the senate budget sponsor, there are only $356.7 million in reductions on total spending of $33.9 billionâ€”only 1.05 percent. Said another way, they think they’re running state government almost 99 percent efficiently. Come on.
The next and different governor, if the majority of our neighbors and friends will wake up to what’s being done to us, will need to rein in the explosion under Blagojevich/Quinn of Medicaid eligibility (Illinois spends $1,700 million ($1.7 billion) more than the national average); apply to current employees the common sense public employee pension reforms already passed for new hires of raising the age for collecting benefits from 55 to 62 years old and capping benefits at a whopping $106,000 (saving tens of billions over the next 30 years and restoring solvency to the system); and, taking a careful scalpel to every line in the budget, every program, every bureaucracy to prune fiscal abuses like cars for legislative leaders, grants for legislator’s sister for â€œinspirationalâ€ skits, hip-hop exercise classes, and a thousand other examples of waste and fraud.
We must begin by paying our darn bills on time to schools and social service agencies. I am ready to work all day, every day until we put together a self-disciplined solution to our state’s financial problems. To do anything else just sounds Greek to me.
State Senator (R-25)