Illinois lawmaker wants politicians to take economics classes

Illinois lawmaker wants politicians to take economics classes

Would taking economics courses help politicians make better fiscal decisions?

Mike Billy
Illinois News Network

Would taking economics courses help politicians make better fiscal decisions?

State Sen. Dave Syverson, R-Rockford, thinks so and he is looking to make this supplementary education the law.

“We make so many other professions take continuing education classes to stay on the cutting edge and we should do the same with legislators,” he said.

Syverson will be introducing legislation that will require elected officials on the state and local level to take an eight-hour economics course every two years. The courses would be given at community colleges throughout the state.

He said that the state’s unemployment, unpaid bills, and pension problems are all indicators that legislators need to brush up on their economics knowledge.

“Most legislators are well intentioned but they often don’t understand economics,” he said. “They can see the short-term effect of legislation but don’t look at long-term macroeconomic consequences.”

Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Illinois at Springfield, said the goals of the legislation were laudable, but the bill is the wrong way to achieve those goals.

“Making the education mandatory is the wrong way to ensure that the General Assembly is as informed as it should be,” he said. “This is better left up to the voters when the lawmakers are running for office and re-election.”

Redfield also said the law would be unenforceable.

“If they don’t take the classes what is the penalty?” he said. “You can’t threaten them with forfeiture from office or even a fine.”

Syverson said the curriculum for the courses would be developed with guidance from state-wide organizations that represent manufacturing, agriculture and business.

“Having professors develop the curriculum might take the focus off of the basic economics and how it deals with everyday life,” he said. “A professor who has never had a real job might talk more about social theory, that’s okay and it can be part of the curriculum, but there needs to be a balance. Manufacturing, agriculture and business are three major parts of Illinois’ economy and should also have a say.”

But Redfield said that such training should be done independently.

“If these groups want to provide education to the legislators they should,” he said. “But it should be done cooperatively and voluntarily.”

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