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So, Illinois’ fiscal woes are the fault of — us? That’s what Ralph Martire said in an op-ed in Sunday’s paper. Martire heads a bipartisan think tank called the Center for Budget and Tax and Budget Accountability. He advocates something he calls a “fair tax,” which means it’s fair to shake down most taxpayers out of more of their money.
“We’re telling politicians, who count on our votes to gain office, that we want children educated, the sick, elderly and other vulnerable populations cared for, and public safety insured, but we aren’t interested in how to pay for it all,” said Martire.
But did we really ask for the kind of government we’ve got? In the same Sunday paper was an exhaustive (not exhausting!) series of stories about Illinois’ public pensions, which are eating up more and more of local and state government budgets. Illinois’ public pension liability is $100 billion. I don’t recall asking for that.
Over the years, lawmakers have made public pensions ever more generous, especially police and fire pensions. Did they publicize this in their re-election brochures? No, they boasted of “leading the fight to keep our communities safe,” which translates to “I bought the support of the firefighters union with this vote.”
As the result of these pension enhancers and legislators’ unwillingness to fully fund them, one-fifth of Illinois’ budget now goes to pay for pensions, and the percentage goes up every year. I never asked lawmakers to do that. Martire said we don’t want the state to cut education funding. Martire, I’m sure, would agree with me that we spend too little state money on K-12 schools and rely too much on local property taxes. I’d agree to transfer much of that burden to the income tax, but only if the state makes school districts lower property taxes by an equal amount.
Effective government should mean getting the biggest bang for the buck for the taxpayers. It shouldn’t be a jobs program for public sector unions with no accountability.
For instance, Chicago Rockford International Airport saved taxpayers $600,000 by switching its airfield fire protection from the $1.2 million charged by Rockford Fire Department to Pro-Tec Fires Services Ltd. of Green Bay, Wis. I visited the Pro-Tec operation at the airport two days before Air Fest; the special equipment for fighting airplane fires is spotless and well-maintained, the fire station, made from a hangar, is clean as a whistle, and the staff is professional, friendly and proud of their high level of training.
Martire assumes we choose to elect politicians who raise spending but don’t raise taxes. But how many of us have a choice in candidates? In Illinois, the Democratic Party gerrymanders districts to elect Democratic majorities, ensuring that big government nanny state advocates control the General Assembly.
Illinois voters know that’s corrupt. That’s why 532,000 of them signed petitions to put a referendum on the Nov. 4 ballot to take redistricting out of politicians’ hands and give it to an independent commission, to draw competitive districts.
Democratic power brokers, fearing they’d lose their clout, demanded that voters not be allowed to vote on that measure, and, lo and behold, Cook County Circuit Judge Mary Mikva, a Democrat threw it off the ballot.
Martire also knows we are governed by lifetime legislators like House Speaker Mike Madigan, first elected in 1971. Is that because voters think he’s an excellent lawmaker? We’ll never know because he has a “safe” district. Once again, Judge Mikva nullified the voices of 591,092 Illinois voters who signed petitions to put term limits on the Nov. 4 ballot.