Are you resigned to Illinois being a Democratic Party oligarchy, or do you still believe that our state’s feeble nod to representative government can survive? Regardless of where you stand, the blame for school funding cuts and other fiscal torments can only be laid in one place: at the feet of the people.
Don’t blame politicians. School funding cuts are what you voted for.
No one should be surprised that a state with a balanced budget law and no budget has problems paying for what the people want. Budget or not, the state’s unpaid bills, pensions, and other problems aren’t disappearing and are getting worse in the absence of fundamental policy changes. We have little reason to believe those changes will happen. The bigger question is whether we have enough voters who want responsible reform, especially when responsible means cutbacks.
At least there is some amusement to be had from so many getting their comeuppance. The shock and outrage at school funding cuts and layoffs beg the question of what those who helped Mike Madigan and his Springfield faithful win election after election were thinking as our state’s finances slid inexorably downhill.
Too many who helped chart Illinois’ course live with their heads buried deeply up their derrieres. When who and what they voted for bring disaster their response is hostility towards anyone who tries to change how the state handles its finances. That’s why we don’t have pension reform. It’s why we don’t have a budget. It’s why we have $7.2 billion in bills that haven’t been paid.1 With notable exceptions including our governor, we don’t like to vote for people with an inclination to fix these things. We vote for maintaining the status quo.
That’s a plan with no future.
Place the blame for Illinois financial crisis here.
The most amazing thing about the fight over how Illinois spends our money is that there is nothing to argue over. Doing more of what we have been doing won’t work. There is no option but change. How many have to suffer before crisis government forces a compromise? The more irony-laden question is how many of those who cast their votes for the Democratic lawmakers putting the screws to the people by refusing to back down on spending will count themselves among the cheated, ignored, and deprived?
It’s not hard to place blame for our state’s financial crisis. The Democratic Party comfortably dominates Springfield. The Republican Party might as well give up on a General Assembly majority. We shouldn’t place all the blame on the politicians, though. Despite the malfeasance and corruption that characterize state politics, they didn’t get into office all by themselves. They had help, but voters steadfastly avoid taking responsibility for their decisions while they take up the call to spend more money.
You wanted school funding cuts? Here they come.
Chicago State University issued layoff notices to all of its employees2 last week. This week CPS delivered the same bad news to a token smattering of 62 workers. Rauner’s intransigence on spending will be blamed for school funding cuts. We should remember that public schools, colleges, and universities are perennial Democratic favorites not because of students. Instead, their glut of sympathy-generating government and union employees are guaranteed to put on a big show for the cameras when things go south.
That kind of publicity in the political arena is valuable and hard to come by.
The threatened Chicago Teachers Union April Fool’s Day strike over pensions underscores how lawmakers and voters alike have been duped into the same kind of thinking reflected at the federal level that refuses to consider an America without unions. The White House Press Office echoed the sentiment, speaking on Obama’s behalf:
The President believes that unions have been the backbone of our middle class and helped build our economy, our workforce, and that we should be doing everything possible to help workers join unions and build unions, not tear them apart.3
We have done exactly that in Illinois. When the red shirts come out again we will blame the lawmakers who advocate giving away control of our public services. We should also thank the protesters, who know to cast their votes to keep the fiscally abusive power structure entrenched. What earns loyalty like the promise of riches to come, paid for on someone else’s dime?
Funding cuts aren’t fair. Why it doesn’t matter.
Schools aren’t special. Neither are social services. They need money to run, just like everything else. Too bad the money isn’t there because of the legislature, past governors, public sector unions, and most important, the rubes with a vote who helped make it all happen.
The list of fiscal fixes recently recommended by the Civic Federation4 is going to be even less popular downstate and with many Democratic voters than doing what we are doing now: nothing.
Could that be why nothing is happening?
An article by Ted Dabrowski of the Illinois Policy Institute points out that 25% of the state’s budget goes to public sector pensions.5 While listening to nonsense about protecting children and advancing education, never forget that this is what the pending teacher’s union strike is about. Pocketing pensions is always going to be more important than schooling our kids.
How to deal with debt? Don’t pay it.
Nothing underscores the Illinois approach to debt like our own Senator Dick Durbin’s ideas on how to cope with the unfairness of $1.2 trillion in unpaid student loan debt, something many of us shouldered in years past and paid off at great sacrifice. Why? We honored our financial obligations and didn’t expect to be bailed out from the fine print.
Durbin was joined by 12 Senate Democrats who co-sponsored his Fairness for Struggling Students Act of 2015 because:
It’s time for action. We can no longer sit by while this student debt bomb keeps ticking,” said Durbin.6
That’s what we do in the senator’s state. We disavow debt. We let the bills pile up. We kick the pension can as far down the tollway as possible. We tell the people they deserve better and make the situation worse. We use school funding cuts as an excuse to spend more. That’s the kind of thinking behind yesterday’s failed General Assembly attempt to overthrow Bruce Rauner’s veto7 of SB 2043, a bill to fund low income MAP grants and public colleges. Illinois doesn’t have the money. Legislators didn’t care. Wiser heads prevailed.
Which is the bigger problem, voting or voters?
If you need more proof that reform in Illinois is a contradiction, consider one of the Chicago public school system fixes being considered. HB4268 would mandate an elected, rather than appointed city school board.6 The bill doesn’t get around the problem of whom we elect and why. Does anyone believe that voting for a school board will make a difference, considering that the people voted for the lawmakers and other elected officials who ruined our state? If voting helped, we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now.
Representative government only works when the people cast their ballots for those who will make responsible decisions. Those decisions mean setting yourself aside and looking at the bigger picture. The political elite calling the shots in Illinois are looking at the bigger picture, but that picture is about politics. For those who did not vote them in this is unfair and for some, tragic. For those who did, you are getting what you wanted.