Everything… Except a Budget

This week was our last chance to reach an agreement on the budget before the legislative session came to a close. This week we passed bill after bill – but none of those bills were a budget. Though we currently find ourselves without a resolution to the budget crisis, there is still some hope that an agreement can be reached during a special summer session.

As your State Representative, passing a balanced budget is my top priority. But we should also be acutely aware of our overarching goal – to chart a course that makes our state both economically prosperous and fiscally sustainable. If we don’t accomplish this goal, then we can expect to hemorrhage more and more of our population.

Last year Illinois lost over 114,000 residents to other states, and our overall population declined by nearly 40,000. The obvious ramifications are that those of us who remain must somehow make up for the lost tax revenue or else necessary state and local services will fail. But here’s the $200 plus billion question: if we keep raising taxes on those who remain in Illinois, then at what point do most residents decide they’ve had enough?

We already know that Illinois has one of the highest overall tax burdens in the nation. Here’s something else we know – the top three states receiving the lion’s share of Illinois’ mass emigration are Texas, Florida and Indiana. All of those states have much lower overall tax burdens than the Land of Lincoln. I think it’s time we start taking the hint.

Illinois has been mismanaged for decades. There’s no disputing the fact that we are facing systemic issues that date back half a century or more. But when it comes to doing the right thing, there is no time like the present. This is the hand we’ve been dealt, and it is imperative that we don’t fold under pressure.

Governor Rauner has made it clear that he wants to see major reforms. And considering the fact that Illinois has well over $200 billion in unpaid bills and unfunded obligations, I would have to agree that major reforms are necessary. The Governor has also said that he would like to see Republicans and Democrats work together on closing the budget shortfall so that we can finally have a truly balanced budget. Without a doubt, it’s going to take some teamwork to make a truly balanced budget a reality.

But instead of working together to close the spending shortfall, the House and Senate have spent the past few months dreaming up ways to add to it. Bills were passed by the legislature that would have added millions more to the already towering shortfall. Last year, the Senate Democrat’s budget shortfall was $4.6 billion. This year their budget was $7 billion out of balance. In fact, this year’s budget was so terrible that Senate Democrats decided to kill their own bill before it ever even had a chance to reach the Governor’s desk.

Considering all of this, how could we possibly reach a consensus on a budget? Well, I believe that if we can agree on four basic premises, then we can find the common ground that is necessary to come to a long-overdue agreement on the budget. 1) At nearly a quarter of a trillion dollars, Illinois faces an unprecedented backlog of debts and obligations. 2) As evidenced by 114,000 residents fleeing the state in 2016, we can deduce that Illinoisans aren’t content with their heavy tax burden. 3) If we raise that tax burden without providing any reforms or demanding any fiscal sustainability, then we can expect a deluge of Illinois residents flooding into tax-friendly states. 4) Political theater and virtue signaling only serve to add to the frustration of Illinoisans. Political games can never replace productive action.

The problem is very real, but the solution is very simple: we have to work together. If we can agree on the above premises, then our two sides can start moving toward each other. Our only course of action is to put the past behind us and chart a new course for the good of Illinois. As we enter summer session, that is my top priority – making Illinois economically prosperous and fiscally sustainable once again.

Milton Friedman once said, “Governments never learn. Only people learn.” Though I’m not as cynical as Mr. Friedman, he does have a relatable point – if Illinois is to succeed, then we must learn from our past mistakes. If our legislature can learn from the past and look to the future, then I am confident that we can pass a balanced budget and make Illinois prosperous again.

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815-232-0774, or visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com and use the contact form to send me an e-mail.

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