Tom Cross and John Tillman: State Needs to Get Moving on Economic Reform Agenda
Lost any friends lately? We sure have — and it’s not because of bad behavior or forgetting to send “thank you” notes. And it’s not just us. Throughout Illinois, people are losing friends, co-workers and acquaintances at record levels.
They’re losing them to other states.
During the past 10 years, more than 727,150 people left our state, ranking Illinois third in the nation in net outmigration. “We’re moving to Texas,” to paraphrase what a few friends have said. “Dallas has the best growth opportunity for what I do. Plus, there’s no income tax and property taxes are much lower. We can live like kings there.”
Stories like these didn’t just start during the current economic crisis, though they are likely accelerating now. People are leaving for better opportunities because Illinois is unfriendly to business and families. Nationally, our state ranks 44th in economic growth and has ranked 47th in job creation since 1977. When a state loses in those two competitions, people leave for places like Texas or Indiana — places with business-friendly policies.
Our state’s “rules of the game” are driving people out. In the process, they’re also fueling a slow, almost unnoticed, downward economic spiral. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can and must change the rules of the game for our workers, for our entrepreneurs and for our investors to attract them rather than drive them out.
We’ve put together a simple, nonpartisan plan for economic reform and later this spring we’ll offer more solutions that will put Illinois back on the road to growth, job creation and prosperity.
Step one to reform is requiring a three-fifths supermajority for any tax or fee increase. Today, in classic Illinois style, too many political leaders are calling for even higher taxes to solve our budget gap. This is madness. Prior to the economic slowdown, Illinois had record revenues. The problem is not that our taxes are too low. The problem is that spending is too high. This rule will help to put the brakes on runaway taxation that is driving our friends and businesses to other states.
Step two to reform is our Sunshine Act. It creates the scalpel to allow for thoughtful, careful removal of spending that is wasteful, fraudulent, ineffective or inefficient. The Sunshine Act will create an independent commission of business leaders who have not been in government. They will review every program and make specific recommendations to consolidate or eliminate duplicative or ineffective programs. The General Assembly must vote up or down on the total recommendation. This is modeled on the very successful Base Realignment and Closing Commission that worked so well to scale down the Department of Defense.
Step three of our economic reform agenda is PAYGO (Pay As You Go). PAYGO is a proven, practical approach to fiscal responsibility. On the federal level in Congress, it led to balanced budgets in the late 1990s. Unfortunately, both Republicans and Democrats who did not want to make tough choices abandoned it.
PAYGO forces elected officials to make the kind of choices each and every Illinois citizen has to make with their own business and family budget. If you want to add a new spending program, fine, but you must offset that spending by eliminating an existing, outdated, ineffective program. It’s tough, but it’s necessary. It’s also common sense.
Step four is the Stimulus Watch Act. Stimulus Watch ensures that Illinois government does not build in permanently higher spending when receiving one-time funding from the recently passed stimulus package. It also prevents the governor from spending money from the stimulus package until the programs are created and appropriated by the General Assembly.
A supermajority vote on taxes will force politicians to scrutinize spending. Sunshine gives us the scalpel to remove cancerous spending. PAYGO slows spending growth and forces tough but essential choices. Stimulus Watch requires fiscal discipline when receiving one-time revenues and requires the governor to follow the rule of law when using federal stimulus funding.
These reforms alone won’t solve all our problems. But they will put us back on the road to recovery. And soon, instead of moving vans taking people out of the state, they will be bringing them back in — and Illinois can once again become a beacon of prosperity for the Midwest and the nation.
Maybe we’ll even see our friends moving back.
Rep. Tom Cross, R-Oswego, is minority leader of the Illinois House. John Tillman is chief executive officer of the Illinois Policy Institute.