A massive deficit is looming in the president’s former home state. Illinois’ debt crisis should send a shame-inducing message to the White House about the hypocrisy of demanding that colleges hold down tuition costs while Democratic special interest favorites contribute to state debt and weigh down the public school system. If the message was received, no one in the White House is listening.
Illinois perfectly mirrors the irresponsibility of Obama administration policies. The state’s governor, Pat Quinn, has criticized Governor Scott Walker of Wisconsin for trying to stifle collective bargaining rights while public employee unions help to drive Illinois into the abyss.
Despite predictions of doom from watchdog groups like the Civic Federation, Illinois has put its residents on the hook for billions in pension obligations from years of allowing unions, public employees, and irresponsible legislators to run roughshod over its finances. Broke but undeterred, Illinois hatched a plan last year to help illegal immigrants attend its colleges and universities with private scholarships and participation in the state college savings program, on top of the resident tuition breaks taxpayers already fund.
Not to be outdone when it comes to irresponsible behavior, President Obama has issued an ultimatum to let colleges know that his reelection platform is more important than their budget woes. Has Mr. Obama forgotten that just a few months ago he lamented the plight of teachers and public employees while demanding that we bail them out with his American Jobs Act? Even this president will find it hard to politic his tuition scheme both ways. His Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, has encouraged teacher’s unions (see: Union Stance Ridicules Duncan’s Collaboration Efforts), and the Obama administration has made it easier for illegal immigrants to take advantage of our school system. Now we have a carrot and stick scheme to force college administrators to hold down tuition hikes when states are out of money.
Shared responsibility has become a White House catchphrase for shaming the president’s naysayers, but there are responsible steps we can take that are off of the Oval Office table, do not require federal spending, and would help hold down the cost of a public college education.
First, stop encouraging public employees and their unions, and damning states that resist their intrusion into taxpayers’ pockets. Do we need a better example than Illinois of what empowering unions can do to public employee costs and state budgets?
Stop telling teachers that they deserve exorbitant wages when they already earn higher pay than the national average, and many accrue health and retirement benefits most Americans would never dream of. Arne Duncan believes good teachers should be paid $150,000 per year (see: Will Taxpayers Support Raising Teacher Salaries 165%?). In a perfect world all good workers would like to make $150,000 or more, but even before the recession this was not a goal taxpayers could afford.
Second, stop encouraging illegal immigrants to attend our schools. Stop telling college age illegals that fairness demands they receive legal status or citizenship in exchange for the benefit of college attendance. Start cutting federal aid to states that give resident tuition to illegals, or promise financial assistance. Bemoaning the loss of teacher jobs because of recession-depleted state budgets, the White House tome Teacher Jobs At Risk did just the opposite when it offered help to states with the American Jobs Act:
In the states with the largest numbers of students, the American Jobs Act will support tens of thousands of educator jobs—California (37,300), Florida (25,900), Illinois (14,500), New York (18,000) and Texas (39,500).¹
Four of these states, California, Illinois, New York, and Texas offer resident tuition breaks to illegals.
When the president bailed out the banks the aid came with chains attached, and banks did everything they could to pay back the money and get Uncle Sam off of their backs. The president’s tuition hike plan takes federal oversight a step further and pushes it to absurdity. The president claimed in his State of the Union Address that there would be No bailouts, no handouts, and no copouts.² What we heard during last week’s address in Ann Arbor sounded like another rob Peter/pay Paul scheme:
We’re telling the states, if you can find new ways to bring down the cost of college and make it easier for more students to graduate, we’ll help you do it. We will give you additional federal support if you are doing a good job of making sure that all of you aren’t loaded up with debt when you graduate from college.³
How does more taxpayer aid from Washington offset the cost of a tuition hike for schools that are already supported by taxpayers? We are being warned that states are reducing their education budgets, and that states also need to do their part to make higher education a priority,4 but education funding is already a priority, especially in states like Illinois that are being driven to bankruptcy by the pension costs of their public employees. President Obama has threatened to hold colleges accountable for tuition hikes, but there is no accountability for policies he endorses that affect all levels of government and drive up costs, dumping the bill in the lap of taxpayers forced to fund his irresponsibility.
Politicians must be held accountable for the costs their special interest supporters tack on to state and federal budgets. The president wants to have it both ways, an easy demand because he does not have to figure out how to pay for the mess his administration is creating. This is a problem taxpayers in states like Illinois will have to figure out for themselves, and will be saddled with even after Barack Obama has left the White House.