Senator Chris Lauzen: Ridden Hard and Hung Up Wet

-By State Senator Chris Lauzen, 25th District

The decent, hard-working taxpayers of Illinois – – of our entire country – – have been “ridden hard and hung up wet”, as they say in the Deep South.

I was shocked to read about a focus group of “Wal-Mart Moms”, a new political demographic of disappointed female voters, a significant portion whom feel sorry for President Obama. I don’t fully understand this emotion considering the aggressive passage of healthcare, cap-and-trade, so-called stimulus/takeovers and multiple expensive vacation trips for him and Michelle, but I am listening closely. These are ladies who thought they were past the “hot dog and beans stage of our lives” when Obama took over from Bush, only to find that family GDP has now shrunk and unemployment nearly doubled two years later. It led one Wal-Mart Mom at a recent Obama townhall meeting to plaintively ask the President, ” . . Is this my new reality?”

Although we clearly hear about the anger and energy of Tea Patriots, there is a growing sadness within the more patient among us that maybe the jobs of being President, or Governor, are just too hard for mere mortal beings. Perhaps, as we make our state and federal governments so large and complicated, and allow them to take over authority to decide the most intricately-complicated decisions in our lives, these jobs are too hard. Didn’t the framers of the U.S. Constitution limit the size of government, in part, for this reason?

Our national and state political psyche may be splitting into a masculine form of Tea Party anger and a feminine form of Wal-Mart Mom resignation. We seem to be sitting down at the kitchen table – – exhausted and a little scared – – to go over our desperate family finances together, but from two distinctly different emotional perspectives.

As your family friend and accountant, I have five big suggestions to make for balancing our state budget. Because most of us are not financially better off today than we were four years ago, or even two years ago, state government needs to be sure that it doesn’t make our family financial matters worse by increasing our tax burden.

Just like at home or in small business, we need to accurately project how much state revenue will come in; then we need to calibrate levels of state services not to exceed those resources. Again, maybe a bit “foreign concept” in government, but isn’t this process exactly what we do back home?

Sarah, my wife, asked me, “But what happens if some areas of state spending exceed the levels of revenue?” The practical answer in our household, like yours, is “Honey, we just can’t afford it”, i.e. prioritize the most important uses of money and balance our needs across the state functions of education, social services, transportation, public safety, etc. But, we must not hammer families and employers for more taxes because it just drives more jobs and assets out-of-state, which further shrinks our tax-paying base.

Examples of substantial savings are:

  • Reduce Medicaid Eligibility in Illinois to the national average levels (saving $1.7 B per year overall and nearly one billion in state funds).
  • Apply 2010 pension reforms to current public employees’ future earnings in order to solve the bankruptcy of the current system i.e. cap pensions at $106,000 (!) per year, move age of retirement with full benefits from 55 years old to 62, and stop “double-dipping” abuses (saving $1.5 B per year).
  • Seriously prune state government spending program-by-program, bureaucracy-by-bureaucracy (to save $1.5 B per year).
  • Get workers employed again: each of the 200,000 Illinois jobs lost in the past year averaged $4000 in income and sales tax (would generate nearly $1 B of additional state revenue).
  • Only after these spending reforms have been measured and proven successful, so taxpayers are confident that they are not throwing good money after bad, consider tax modernization and reform, that reflect up-to-date economic realities.

It is a shame that my friend Pat Quinn has not turned out to be the practical,effective administrator that we hoped for. His answer is to favor public employees and a 33-67% income tax increase. Bill Brady has focused on the needs of non-government taxpayers and spending reduction reforms. After November 2nd, we have our work cut out for us to re-meld the male energy and female patience of our political split psyche into one sane approach to self-governance.

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