It is fitting that Illinois is the destination of choice for Democratic legislators desperate to flee their states to prevent newly elected majorities from delivering on the budget reforms they campaigned on. Perhaps the fleeing legislators from Wisconsin and Indiana watched the budget trickery in Illinois last month and knew it was a safe place for big tax-and-spenders.
If you missed it, Illinois exploited a loophole in the state constitution to force through a massive tax hike in a lame-duck session. Illinois’s budget rules say that a budget bill can pass in the first half of the year by a simple majority but a supermajority is required in the second half of the year. Governor Pat Quinn’s 67 percent hike in the state’s personal and corporate income tax rates had no chance of a supermajority in last year’s legislature, and no chance of a simple majority in this year’s, after the November elections. No worries — the “answer” was to carry a lame-duck session of the old legislature over into January, making it once again the “first half of the year,” and pass the tax-hiking budget using the simple-majority votes of lame ducks who have already been voted out.
For a few weeks, it was the worst procedural abuse ever used to advance big government. Then, Wisconsin Senate Democrats decided their best play to derail a budget repair bill that had the support of the governor and clear majorities and the legislature was to flee the state and refuse to do their jobs. As Joel Klein quipped: “Isn’t it ironic that the Democratic senators have fled the democratic process?”
One of the most dangerous things about the Wisconsin Democrats’ decision to flee Wisconsin is that it set a precedent that could lead to legislators elsewhere doing the same thing when elections don’t go their way. That concern was borne out today, less than a week later, when Indiana House Democrats fled their state to block budget reforms. Their destination? Illinois, of course.
But Illinois, even if the enormous tax hike enacted last month raises as much as it’s projected to (tax hikes never do), is in the worst budget hole of any state in the Midwest, and one of the worst in the country. It’s a state teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, largely because of the $138 billion of unfunded pension liabilities it has racked up. Governor Quinn is now proposing another $8.75 billion in borrowing.
Which underscores the stakes for states like Wisconsin and Indiana. They can deal with reality, get their obligations under control and shrink government until it gets to a level that taxpayers can afford — or they can attempt to take the easy way out, like Illinois did. They can run — physically and metaphorically — for the disastrous Illinois border, where pension obligations will cripple them, union corruption runs rampant, and public officials often end their careers in federal prison. The “easy way out,” of course, is actually no way out. It ends in total ruin, as Illinois itself must recognize, and soon.
That’s the real choice facing the Democratic legislative refugees: the Illinois path of Blagojevich, pension crisis, and bankruptcy — or the sensible, vital reforms of Walker and Daniels, and a path to economic and fiscal recovery. They need to go home and do their jobs.
Mr. Kerpen is vice president for policy at Americans for Prosperity, which is supporting Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s reforms at www.StandWithWalker.com.