You deserve a better Illinois budget


It’s hard to believe that it’s been 75 years since the famous “D-Day” of World War II.  On that day in 1944, 5,000 ships ferried 156,000 Allied troops to the beaches of Normandy.  11,000 warplanes provided cover for the men as they stormed the beaches under heavy fire from German defenses.  4,000 soldiers lost their lives.  By June 11th, the Allies had secured Normandy with 326,000 troops, 50,000 military vehicles, and 100,000 tons of military equipment.  The liberation of Europe had begun.
As children, we all learned this story.  The story about how our country took the final steps to becoming a world super power.  We grew up agreeing with the words President Reagan spoke 35 years ago.  He said, “The men of Normandy had faith that what they were doing was right, faith that they fought for all humanity, faith that a just God would grant them mercy on this beachhead, or on the next.  It was the deep knowledge ­— and pray God we have not lost it — that there is a profound moral difference between the use of force for liberation and the use of force for conquest.  You were here to liberate, not to conquer, and so you and those others did not doubt your cause.  And you were right not to doubt.”
We don’t learn all of the details as children.  We don’t realize just how easily the battle could have gone badly.  Legendary German Commander Erwin Rommel was charged with the defenses.  Rommel was on leave when the invasion began, leaving the German forces without their best commander, who also designed their defenses.  Hitler refused to commit more troops to the counterattack because he was afraid the invasion wasn’t serious and that another attack would come elsewhere.  The outcome could have been very different if Rommel had been in command.
It isn’t until we become adults that we learn to look for more than the broad brush strokes, and understand when to focus on the details.  Such focus comes in handy when we take a look at our Illinois government.
The broad brush strokes of the Chicago Machine’s flashy media plan tell us that they are “Keeping Promises and Delivering Results.”  The details are very different.  I will be sharing the details of these points over the next several weeks and explaining my votes.
Let’s start with the budget.  For the second time in as many years, Illinois has passed a budget on time.  This governor, like the last one, claims this budget is “balanced.”  The new budget was printed on 1,581 pages double-sided and spends more than $40 billion.  It was proverbially “dropped on my desk” 20 minutes before the Senate was scheduled to adjourn on May 31.
Some of you may remember my column on the annual budget address in February.  That budget address is when negotiations for the fiscal year is supposed to start.  It wasn’t.  As I mentioned in my column a few weeks ago, even Democrats in Springfield were expressing frustration at the lack of communication about the budget between the Governor’s office and the General Assembly.  Delivering 3,000 pages of information for me to read as your Senator in 20 minutes was unconscionable and inconsiderate of the faith you place in me.
I did take full advantage of the short time available to learn as much as I could about the budget, and I had serious concerns.  Not only does this budget add $1.5 billion in new spending, it also creates or increases $3 billion in taxes and fees.  I learned that it included a raise for Springfield legislators, and promptly voted no.
We all have good reason to be concerned.  While the budget increases spending for education and our state troopers, it does not increase spending for our farmers.  Many of our farmers are still struggling to put seed in the ground.  They need our help.  Instead, we are spending more money for the Lieutenant Governor to double the office’s headcount and administer new criminal justice programs like the Illinois Innocence Project.
If we’re spending more money on public safety through the lieutenant governor’s office, surely we would save money in the Attorney General’s office?  Nope.  The budget spends $4.6 million more than originally introduced in the Governor’s Budget Address, to increase salaries and add 29 new positions.
The budget does nothing to address over $133.5 billion in the unfunded liabilities for the State Retirement System.  There is no information regarding the COLA savings or vested inactive buyouts that were part of last year’s budget (FY2019).  It provides no information on any savings after the implementation of the Tier 3 pension plan that was part of the Fiscal Year 2018 budget. We have yet to learn of any reforms or wasteful spending cuts in this budget, or planned by any department in the state government.  Oh, and we still have a backlog of over $6.6 billion we owe our vendors.
The tax increases include collecting online sales taxes and taxing insurance companies, while eliminating a tax break for businesses bringing overseas jobs back to Illinois.  The budget did not include an analysis of how the online sales taxes would change buying habits.  It did not explain how much our premiums and copays will go up because of the new tax on insurance companies. And it didn’t explain why bringing jobs back home from overseas is a bad thing.
The devil is in the details, and of course I voted no.  All this budget did was double down on the failed formula the Chicago Machine has had for the better part of the past two decades – kick the can down the road and find someone to blame when things go sideways.  Well, that’s not worthy of you.  It’s not worthy of me.  It’s not worthy of our children and grandchildren.  It’s not worthy of the Land of Lincoln.  We deserve better.

If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, please visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.

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