Follow California’s lead: Illinois should take a vote

Follow California’s lead: Illinois should take a vote

CHICAGO – Before we start raising more taxes in Illinois, we should ask the voters what they want. I wrote a column several weeks ago about watching how we spend the stimulus money that states are getting. How are they going to spend it? This was my observation:

There are many people coming out of the woodwork with reasons that their agency or organization needs more money. To them, this is the most critical thing they know must be funded with the stimulus money. Nothing else matters.

Many agencies have filed for more funding, but as stated in the earlier column, this isn’t parallel to the goose that laid the golden egg. There is definitely a grassroots movement of people wanting to see some accountability and common sense when it comes to spending all this “free money”. When it comes to the annual operational budget, no one wants their taxes raised for any issue.
There is certainly going to be a property tax revolt in this state as people see their property taxes being raised on houses that have lost value by 25 percent to 35 percent (if not more). On top of that, we get an income tax increase of 50 percent? For what? Looking at the latest votes in California on a half-dozen propositions, people there want everything to stop.
Stop automatic raises. Stop pay raises for lawmakers. Stop runaway spending on the state budget. Illinois legislators have to take a strong look at what happened in California because Illinois is starting to get lumped in with California, New York and New Jersey when it comes to runaway spending, bloated salaries and benefits with a shrinking tax and revenue base to pay for it.
If these issues were put to a statewide referendum, do you really think a tax hike would pass? Do you think Cook County would be allowed to charge more than 10 percent on sales tax? This has scared many people off in surrounding counties and states from buying anything from cigarettes and furniture to TV sets and appliances.
Do you really that taxpayers would care about cuts? Everyone with their own family budgets has taken cuts. Some go deeper than others. I know people who have taken 50 percent cuts in their salaries and have to make ends meet. Has anyone thought about cutting state salaries or at least freezing them? Is that too hot an issue?
Cut the Budget
Why isn’t this offered as a solution to any of this? Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn sent out a letter saying in part:

My budget plan contains tough but responsible choices that must be made.
To date, my budget remains the only comprehensive and balanced plan before the General Assembly. Unfortunately, some opponents of my plan say my tax reforms are unnecessary [while they] refuse to make their own proposals. These critics claim we can balance the budget solely by cutting state expenditures.
I feel [it’s] my responsibility as governor to let you understand the consequences of such a “slash-and-burn budget”. If we were forced to balance our budget without reform and with no new revenue, we would be forced to:

  • Lay off more than 14,300 teachers
  • Take away health care from more than 650,000 people
  • Lay off almost 1,000 state troopers
  • Release 6,000 prison inmates early

These are just a few of the many draconian cuts this kind of mean-spirited and counterproductive budget would require. That is why I do not support this approach. We need to make tough choices [rather than] bad choices.

Where is all the leadership in both parties who criticize the governor but haven’t offered an alternative solution? When faced with some tough decisions, most if not all people are paralyzed. Take note of that in the next election for both parties. Are the four issues the governor outlines above the only four places that can be touched for cuts? I find that laughable.
All department heads should be given immediate marching orders to cut 15 percent to 20 percent of their budgets or they get replaced. Too draconian? There are many areas that can be cut back, and if their respective director can’t find the cuts, then replace them as they’re not worth the money they get paid. That’s a substantial savings right there.
Does the state still maintain a fleet of airplanes for executive use? That’s another issue. With all the unemployed and underemployed people in Illinois, it should be very easy to find administrators who could run circles around those who have always counted on an increased budget every year for their departments.
A friend of mine who was recently laid off is looking at two executive jobs. Neither are in Illinois. Before we raise more taxes to scare more companies and executives out of Illinois, let’s cut the budget to something we can live with financially and attract new businesses here to expand the tax base.
What do we cut? That question seems to be on the minds of a lot of local government bodies when it comes to creating next year’s budgets as well. Some can’t come to grips with the realities of what they were elected for, which is to represent the people and be accountable to them for fiduciary responsibility.
You have to make some serious decisions about what can be left in a budget and what has to be cut. Nothing is sacred. Laying off people may be the only option left. Many municipalities are facing this right now and California – as it has in so many other areas in the past – is in the forefront. California is providing the vision of the future by showing it’s time for some radical if not draconian reform.
The primary goal for Illinois should be to attract and maintain new businesses and corporate facilities before any increase in programs and/or salaries are made.
Like so many other organizations, the pay-for-performance model should be instituted instead of automatic raises for just showing up to the job. Let your legislator know how you feel. Go here, click on the “by address” tab and enter your address. Increase the tax base instead of the taxes on businesses and individuals. Until then, cut, cut and cut some more.
Carlinism: When the bottle is just about empty, you can’t offer everyone another round on the house.
Recent columns by James Carlini