“Okay, campers, rise and shine, and don’t forget your booties ‘cause it’s cooooold out there today… the big question on everybody’s lips... Do ya think Phil is gonna come out and see his shadow? – Punxsutawney Phil. That’s right, it’s... GROUNDHOG DAY!”
Like a scene from the 1993 movie ‘Groundhog Day,’ Illinoisans heard Governor Quinn, in his recent Budget Address, bluff the same fact-free numbers that he has used for the past three years; hail a recovery in a state that continues to batter its taxpayers; re-introduce his economic “blueprint;” boast pension reform; and reiterate his support for “birth to age 5” education (yet again ignoring reforms needed in K-12). He even finished with his often used call-to-action, “Let the will of the people be the law of the land.”
The facts, however, remain the same. For example, Illinois has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation, and the highest in the Midwest; and Quinn’s “pension reform” law failed to fix the state crisis.
But, competing facts aside, until Illinoisans wake up and decide to push for the needed reforms, it will be ‘Groundhog Day’ for Illinois.
To relieve us from this never-ending “Groundhog Day” nightmare, I recommend a procedure from my military experience. There are fundamental sequences that go into planning military operations. The starting point is to identify all critical aspects of an operation – the end-goal, the enemy, the conditions, and the timetable for completion. Then during the execution, phaselines must be met to benchmark progress. The final phase of the operation is an ‘After Action Report’, which is a comprehensive analysis of the mission, so troops and leaders learn from the operation and do not repeat mistakes.
In 2011, the Democrats, led by Governor Quinn, went on a mission to balance our state budget by imposing a temporary tax increase to relieve the pressure of back bills and enact pension reform.
If any analysis was made, no benchmarks were set and progress was not reviewed along the way. There has been no comprehensive look at how to change the way we do business. Education reform has taken a back seat to union demands. The solution of reforming Medicaid through a premium support system has not been advanced. Pension reform that mirrors the private sector is buried in favor of a bill that has now proven to be a step backward. Restructuring government through privatization and realigning benefits with the private sector, an obvious solution, is rejected, as union leaders assure members that the state will continue to raise taxes with no regard for the ends. State leaders continue to champion the status quo: spending for spending’s sake – with no clear vision or end goal in mind.
Three years after the state’s largest income tax increase, where’s the ‘After Action Review’? We simply watched as the Governor strung together propaganda – including threats to those most in need of state services and property owners - to advocate making the temporary tax increase permanent.
So, what did that 67% tax increase buy us? Instead of leaner, smarter government, it bought us more of the same: bureaucracy that resists all attempts at reform. It bought us a compounded uncertainty and mistrust in state government, as it sets a precedent that we do not have to keep even a very narrowly defined promise to taxpayers. It bought us twelve drops in our bond rating since Quinn took office. And, it bought us the second highest out-migration record of any state.
In 2011, Illinois had an $8.5 billion backlog of unpaid bills. At the end 2014, after receiving an extra $31 billion from taxpayers, the state is projected to have nearly $6 billion in unpaid bills and $127 billion in debt.
To the families and businesses of Illinois, there is nothing temporary about the extra income that was taken from them. But, to Governor Quinn, it’s not enough. As Bill Murray states in Groundhog Day, “There is no way that this is ever going to end… I don’t see any other way out. He’s got to be stopped. And [we] have to stop him.” If taxpayers are no longer content to perish in this unrelenting ‘Groundhog Day’, there will be an opportunity to change our course of action in November.
State Rep. Jeanne Ives represents Illinois' 42nd House District