Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everybody!  Have you made any New Year’s resolutions yet?  We’ve all heard about the success rate of resolutions.  If we follow the law of averages then by February most of our resolutions are out the window and we wait until the next year to repeat the same cycle.

So how can we break that cycle?  How can we make this year the year that we defy the odds?

Well, it turns out that there is a scientific formula to tip the odds in your favor.  We’ll get to that later, but first I want to talk about what Illinois’ New Year’s resolution should be.  Where do we start?  I guess you go big or you go home. 

So let’s say this, “In 2017 We, the State of Illinois, resolve to reign in our finances, pay our bills on time, encourage businesses to grow, make our pension payments on time, fully fund education and social services, and most importantly balance our budget.”  That’s not too much to ask is it?

Ok Ok, so maybe those are fairly lofty goals for a resolution.  And if our state’s history is any indication of future events, then that resolution is probably going to run out of gas somewhere around January 12th.  But fear not, because this year we have science on our side.

I came across an informative article titled “5 Scientific Ways to Build Habits That Stick.”  The author compiled research and extrapolated an easy to follow formula based on what science tells us about creating good habits and making them permanent.  Coincidentally (or perhaps not), every point made in the article has an application for Illinois’ current fiscal crisis.

I believe that if Illinois is to keep our aforementioned New Year’s Resolution, then we need to take the following steps:

#1.  Make “micro quotas” and “macro goals.”  In Illinois’ case, the macro goal is to fulfill our resolution.  The micro quotas would be balancing a budget in 2017, balancing budgets in the following years, and completely funding our pension obligations in the future.

#2.  Create behavior chains.  Just as someone who is struggling to balance a budget needs to ask themselves some tough questions, so must Illinois ask some tough questions.  As I’ve said many times before, there is never a shortage of good government ideas, there’s just a shortage of funds with which to pay for the ideas.  We need to create a good behavior chain of always asking ourselves “Do we really need this?”  Necessary services must be safeguarded and nice but not necessary programs will have to take a back seat.

#3.  Eliminate excessive options.  A while back I made the point that we will never balance our budget if we view state funds to be something along the lines of an Oprah studio audience giveaway.  The whole mentality of “You get a government program, you get a government program, and you get a government program” needs to come to a swift and abrupt end if we are ever to balance the budget.

#4.  Process plan but don’t fantasize.  As the article states, “Research shows that excessive fanaticizing can be extremely detrimental to the stickiness of any habit.”  Unfortunately, dreaming of the rainbows and butterflies that come with being the best, most solvent state in the Union does us more harm than good.

Cuts will unfortunately need to be made and belts will need to be tightened. We can’t lose sight of the fact that this will be a difficult journey, but the end result will make it worthwhile.

#5.  Eliminate the “ah-screw-its.”  We readily admit that we have a problem, but sometimes we have a defeatist attitude about our reality.  Just remember, it’s never too late to do the right thing.

Our children and grandchildren deserve better than the State of the State that we are on track to pass down to them, but we have a chance to change the trajectory and aim for a positive outcome.

I have faith in us.  You can accomplish your New Year’s resolutions, and I think that we can work together to accomplish this one too.  We care about Illinois too much to throw in the towel, and it’s all put into perspective when we think about what we leave for the next generation. 

Let’s start by eliminating “kick the can” as our state sport and get to working on a better solution – or resolution – immediately.  Good luck on your resolutions, everybody.

Since I poked a little fun at Oprah Winfrey earlier in the column, I suppose I should even things out by quoting her now: “Cheers to a New Year and another chance for us to get it right.”  Let’s get it right, Illinois.

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com.  You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.