In his recent Wednesday Journal article, “Tax increase keeps state government in Cuckooland,” Jack Crowe appealed to our desire for lower taxes by offering us nostrums. He did this by perpetuating the myth that Illinois could solve its economic problems if it would only “shrink the size of our government in the midst of our financial crisis.”
Unfortunately, no such simple solution will solve the state’s complex fiscal problems. Let us look at a few facts.
(1) Education: In our state budget, more than $9 out of every $10 is spent in just four areas: education (35 percent), health care (30 percent), human services (21 percent) and public safety (5 percent). Therefore, if one wishes to shrink the size of state government, one must reduce aid to one or more of these state services.
(2) Illinois ranks 49th out of 50 states in the portion of educational funding covered by the state versus local revenues. Illinois covers just 28 percent of the cost.
(3) Illinois is the most reliant state on property taxes to fund schools in the nation.
(4) Because of a reliance on property taxes, minority school districts start out with $1,154 less, per child, to spend on education.
Do we really want to cut state aid to education?
(5) Health care: Employer-provided health care insurance has been declining steadily since 1980.
(6) By 2008, more than 43 percent of the workforce did not have employer-provided insurance.
(7) More than 57 percent of Hispanics do not have employer-provided insurance.
(8) By 2009, 30 percent of the Illinois population was either on Medicaid or uninsured. (It should be noted that the federal government contributes almost twice as much money to Medicaid as does the state of Illinois. By reducing state contributions, we would lose a significant amount of federal aid).
(9) Human services: These services have born the brunt of state cuts to programs for mental health, aging and for the developmentally handicapped. From the year 2000 to 2011, human services programs have been cut 30 percent.
Do we really want to cut more money from programs that serve our most vulnerable citizens?
(10) Public safety: It is possible to save money in this area. For example, the city of Camden, N.J., just cut its police force by 50 percent. Do we wish to follow a similar path? We could reduce the size of our state police. We could possibly consolidate our prison system by giving inmates who have less than a year or two to serve an early out. We could reduce the size of the state fire marshal’s office, even though among its many duties is the inspection of elevators.
Illinois citizens should think twice before allowing themselves to be swayed by the siren calls of a modern day Lorelei. They could lose a lot of what makes life worth living.
Al Popowits is a River Forest resident and community activist.