Illinois Finally Has A Budget, But It’s No Cause for Celebration
It’s Cause to Get Motivated for 2018!
The Illinois General Assembly has just adopted a budget that cuts funding for most public services by 5 percent below 2015 levels, cuts funding for higher education by 10 percent, shifts some pension costs to local governments, increases our state’s flat income tax from 3.75 percent to 4.95 percent – and yet will still leave Illinois with about a $2 billion deficit, $15 billion in accumulated unpaid bills, higher interest to pay on money borrowed during two years without a budget, and a pension system underfunded by about $130 billion.
Only in Illinois could such a development be considered an “improvement.”
In one sense it is an improvement, but only compared to the complete human disaster of the last two years, in which our state government has operated with no budget at all. The bi-partisan failure to adopt a budget in the last two years resulted in our schools, universities, human service and health-care providers, public transit, local governments, and the people most in need of assistance being kicked to the curb -- with little, no, or very delayed support from state government.
In every other sense, this budget is no cause for celebration. It continues a trend that has been in place since the turn of this century: of state government repeatedly cutting education and social services, cutting public employment and the jobs indirectly created by it, attacking public pensions and retiree benefits rightfully earned by the workers who paid into the system, imposing ever higher costs and worse conditions on students, parents and people unable to care for themselves, and leaving our environment and public health inadequately protected.
The near-bankruptcy of our state government is exceeded only by the political, intellectual and moral bankruptcy of the two corporate-sponsored parties jointly responsible for it. They would like the people of our state to believe that there were no other options, because “Illinois is broke,” so “painful choices had to be made.” They would like Illinoisans to believe that the Republican leadership just wants government to “live within its means,” while the Democratic leadership wants to “hold the line” against the more extreme proposals and anti-worker attacks of the Republicans. But these differences, and the gridlock they created, were all based on an out-and-out lie: Illinois is not “broke,” and none of this has been necessary.
Our state treasury may be “broke,” but Illinois is not. We live in a wealthy state in the wealthiest nation in the world. Our state treasury is broke because Illinois has one of the most backward tax systems in the United States. Our flat income tax, over-reliance on sales taxes, and reliance on property taxes to fund our schools, have together given us a regressive system that taxes the poorest 20 percent of our people at almost triple the rate of the top 1 percent! It has also given us about the worst funded, and most unequally funded, public schools in the nation.
This is not only unfair; it is economically stupid and ruinous. It has resulted in a “structural deficit” – meaning that tax revenues are simply not enough to support the most basic functions of government. This has been known for decades, but neither the Democratic nor the Republican leadership, during either Democratic or Republican administrations, has ever done a damn thing about it. Instead, beginning in the 1990s, the leadership of both parties tried to cover up the problem by short-changing the pension system, not making the payments needed to keep it solvent. That made it seem like things were okay. That’s why many Illinoisans look back to the days when Jim Edgar was governor and think that he did a good job. But that was an illusion. We are paying for the Edgar administration now!
There are real solutions – and these, too, have been known for decades. But among political parties it is only the Green Party that has actually been advocating them and demanding their enactment. These solutions include:
- A progressive income tax in Illinois.
- Enacting the LaSalle Street Tax – a small tax on speculative trading on derivatives, which would raise billions of dollars for our state.
- Closing corporate tax loopholes.
- Using the billions in new revenues to fully fund grade-school education from the state, not local property taxes, make college education tuition free, provide high quality health care to all Illinoisans, meet our pension obligations, and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs improving our infrastructure, insulating homes and building renewable energy.
We have been promoting these ideas for years, which is why we support the People and Planet First Budget Proposal adopted by Fair Economy Illinois.
The track record of the other two parties is clear. The solutions are known. What is needed, quite simply, is to elect people to office who will enact them. The Green Party is looking to 2018 to get a foothold in state government and start providing the real leadership that the people need and deserve. We are starting to recruit good candidates now but we will need more people coming together around a real peoples’ agenda and platform to get them elected. Now is the time to get behind your party, and help us turn this state around by donating to the Illinois Green Party! Together, we can make great things happen in 2018.