The political games over the budget have been going on for years, and recently we’ve seen those games severely hurt those who most need our assistance. That is entirely unacceptable.
It’s time we responsibly balanced our budget and sustainably funded our most important priorities. This is what we did in my city when I served as a local municipal leader, and with my background as an economics teacher I can help make Springfield follow those same common sense principles.
First, we must grow our economy. We will never be able to truly balance our budget with cuts or even revenue increases. The only way we will get back on solid financial footing is through growth. Our state’s economy continues to lag that of our neighbors, and it’s time we took action to bring prosperity back to Illinois. With our natural advantages and educated workforce, there is no excuse for our economic woes.
To encourage growth, we need to get government out of the way of business, because whenever government tries to affect the economy it usually does more harm than good. When government is acting at its best, it’s not regulating, but rather encouraging growth. Right now, we are both over-regulating businesses and over-subsidizing them, which is completely contradictory. By scaling back certain regulations, we give businesses more freedom to grow. And by no longer subsidizing businesses, we stop picking winners and losers and level the playing field, removing uncertainty and ending this constant extortion of government for handouts.
Next, we must take steps to reduce our spending. You cannot decrease spending enough in Illinois by acting as an accountant and cutting line items. Instead, you have to think like an economist and change the way people qualify for programs and receive benefits by changing the formulas, ensuring that support is there for those who truly need it.
We also need to face our pension funding deficit. We got into this mess because the state repeatedly shorted the pension system. Springfield also created much of the local government pension problem by continually ordering increases in benefits that the state didn’t have to pay for. In addition, local taxing agencies keep implementing short-sighted measures like early retirement plans that push labor costs onto the pension systems.
To solve this crisis, we need to pass laws that allow us to make arguments in court in favor of reforming the system by bringing things back to the baseline and limiting future benefits, neither of which crosses the constitutional threshold of diminishing benefits. We also need to consolidate pension funds and achieve economies of scale, which would help solve local pension problems.
With our spending under control, we can then address taxes. I voted against the largest permanent tax increase in Illinois history, because it was only going to intensify the exodus of families and businesses leaving our state. As soon as possible, we need to begin lowering our income tax rate on families and businesses in a way that gives the poorest Illinoisans the biggest break. We should start by making the first portion of all income tax-free, which will lower taxes for all Illinoisans. I filed this proposal as Amendment #1 to SB 2669.
There is a significant incentive to getting our financial act together in Illinois. If we take the above steps, we will finally be able to invest in our transportation infrastructure. Currently, our infrastructure is falling into disrepair and getting overcrowded at the same time. Planes, trains, automobiles, and boats are all drawn to Illinois like a magnet, but if we don’t improve our infrastructure soon, those who drive their economic engines through Illinois will find a workaround, which would devastate our economy. On the positive side, making these investments would set off an economic boom that creates good-paying jobs and provides more opportunity for Illinoisans.