We Need a Budget… but is that all?
Monday, June 12, 2017
by Rep. Brian Stewart
Last week we talked about the ongoing budget battle. All of us are very aware of the deleterious consequences that stem from operating without a budget. Necessary social services and our education systems are suffering because of the impasse, and Springfield politicians are earning themselves some much deserved heat from constituents.
We have operated for two years without a budget, and that is completely unacceptable. Illinois deserves far better than political bickering. I read your comments every day, and I certainly understand the frustration you have with the lack of progress in the legislature. Please understand that no one is more frustrated than I am. It’s the first thing I think about every morning, and it’s the last thing I think about at night.
But as we focus squarely on the issue of the budget, I hope you’ll remember one thing: A balanced budget will heal many of our wounds, but it will not be a cure-all. I am extremely proud of our district’s passion for a budget to be passed, but I shudder at the thought of seeing that energy dissipate once we actually have a budget.
If we think that a budget is the answer to all of our problems, then we are dead wrong. Since 1995, more than one million people have left Illinois for another state. Though there are several reasons why people have chosen to leave our state for places like Texas, Florida and Indiana, we cannot discount the fact that most of the states people are going to are places where they will not be taxed to death.
Please allow me to reiterate – I am in no way saying that passing a budget is not my absolute top priority – it is. But it is also crucially important to remember that once we pass a balanced budget, we will still have a lot of work ahead of us. Fixing Illinois is going to take more than just a balanced checkbook.
Allow me to go a step further. Maybe instead of focusing on the question, “Why doesn’t Illinois have a balanced budget,” perhaps we should be asking ourselves a different question. “What is it going to take to keep people from leaving our state? And how can we attract more people to our state?” If we create an environment in which job producers are welcomed with open arms and taxpayers aren’t met with an outstretched palm, only then will we be addressing the root of the issue.
And as an adamant believer in checklists, I have created a simple, three-step checklist to get our state out of the rut we are in and moving in the right direction:
Step one is to pass a balanced budget. Anything less than a fully balanced budget will only delay the inevitable and allow for our financial situation to further deteriorate. Passing a short-term fix just so politicians can claim victory isn’t the answer. Kicking the can down the road has serious consequences – which, given our current financial woes, should be glaringly obvious to all of us.
Step two is less simple. We cannot think of Illinois employers and taxpayers as being like dairy cows that can be milked over and over again without repercussions. Every taxpayer is a unique individual who makes decisions based upon that which is in their own best interest and that of their loved ones. If a working family thinks that their quality of life will be better in Texas, then chances are they will uproot themselves and head to the Lone Star State. We cannot take taxpayers and employers for granted anymore. We need to support them – not extort them.
Step three is more difficult than it sounds. Once we have created a positive environment for working families and the employers that keep them in Illinois, we have to maintain sustainability. The practice of coming up with “good ideas” on how to spend more money that we don’t have needs to come to an abrupt end. We must keep our focus squarely on growing our state and retaining our residents. Only then can we succeed.
As Florida Senator Marco Rubio said, “We don’t need new taxes. We need new taxpayers – people that are gainfully employed, making money and paying into the tax system. And then we need a government that has the discipline to take the additional revenue and use it to pay down our debt and to never grow it again.”