Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sen. Hutchinson: "We haven't been doing that for the last 25-30 years"

State Sen. Toi Hutchinson gave an impassioned speech yesterday for ending Illinois' budget crisis that has paralyzed Illinois' economy, paralyzed Illinois' social agencies, and paralyzed Illinois' future.

"We are in a crisis," Hutchinson says. "We're in a crisis right now."

Hutchinson's comment comes at a time when Illinois -- and the country -- is divided, and distrust of government is near all-time highs. But Sen. Hutchinson argues that Springfield is broken, and it's time to stand up, fix it, do the right thing and have the courage to lead.

This is not your father's Democrat.

Sen. Hutchinson is not risk-adverse. She believes in speaking the truth -- even when it's not what people want to hear (but we need to hear). Hutchinson is not only a newly-appointed state Senator (surviving a brutal nomination process), but she serves the 40th Senate District, which includes several of the most active Tea Party chapters in Illinois. A straight-shooter, Hutchinson previously wrote:

I remember all of the things I used to say about the General Assembly -- as a taxpayer, a voter, and a mom. I wanted representatives who believed in people, who could engage in meaningful and principled debate, and who weren’t afraid to fight for basic democratic principles. We need more from our legislators.

It’s a toxic political environment, which makes for pretty rough waters. But master sailors are never trained in calm seas. Leaders lead, regardless of the consequences.

That has not been the tradition in Illinois politics of late. While the 1990s saw the growth of "the Combine," the election of Rod Blagojevich toppled many of the prior assumptions in Springfield. Blagojevich's desperate need to be viewed as "top dog" (or should i say, the King) paralyzed Illinois state government long before the economy was paralyzed by the worst recession since the Great Depression.

But neither Blagojevich or his nemesis, Speaker Madigan, can be blamed for the ponzi-scheme financing that state governments undertook to achieve "balanced" budgets in the last decade or so. These accounting tricks and various sleights of hand were invented elsewhere, and utilized by all sides (Governor and legislature, Republicans and Democrats) in virtually every state to hide the true costs of government. In the 21st century, Americans expected to get everything for less, including government -- although we grumbled when that expectation effected our incomes.

That bubble has now burst. Governments at all levels have kicked the can down the road, borrowing against our futures to fund public services (like roads, public safety and education), and the bills are now coming due. More significantly, the Republican theory that charity, not government, could step in to provide the economic and social safety net that our unemployed, our poorest, our most disadvantaged citizens require has been proven wrong. Charities, non-profits and social agencies are critically threatened -- some even closing their doors -- due to the economic downturn, just as they are needed most. It doesn't help that the state is behind in its payments to the agencies that contracted with the state of Illinois to provide public services to people in need. But the economy has simply meant that fewer people are able to donate, and their donations, when they give, tend to be smaller.

Sen. Hutchinson understands. "We cannot afford to continue to do phantom economics and voodoo accounting," Hutchinson said, "and balance this budget on the backs of the people who need us most. Their backs are broken now."

Hutchinson lashed out at the Party of No that says "No to Families, No to Children, No to Social Services that keep our most vulnerable people safe, we are playing politics with people's lives."

No one wants to pay higher taxes -- everyone wants to get stuff (like services) for free. But our days of paying for government on credit or hiding its real costs have come to an end. As Sen. Hutchinson says, "Funding government is the right thing to do." Government has an important role in our society, and an important role to play in a healthy economy. Contrary to what some believe, a strong government is vital to a strong free market economy. Economies are transactional in character, amoral in nature, and require a perception among participants that those transactions are fair, transparent and above board. Weak governments tend to spawn oligarchic economies, where consumers are exploited, and socio-economic mobility is virtually unheard of. A global capitalist economy like ours requires a strong government with the ability to enforce its rules, not just here at home but abroad. There is no free market without a strong government.

For those who want to argue with examples like Hong Kong, and other free market economies that grew under the protection of the U.S. government, I merely note that, yes, we paid for their protection, too. That's what happens when one is a superpower. We're number one. But that has both costs and rewards. We must bear those costs to reap those rewards.

Illinois has fared worse than other large states because it was an anchor in our manufacturing base. Not as bad as Michigan, but bad nonetheless. So Illinois has to face the challenges of the worst economic downturn most of us have ever seen, a political paralysis that could have been a script to a Keystone Kops film, an economic engine (Chicago) that has had its own difficulties crawling into the 21st century, and a political/legislative system that has struggled to keep up with all these changes.

Sen. Hutchinson offers a vision for a better future for Illinois. Her challenge is for our political leaders to, well, lead:

I will continue to push for a solution that will result in Illinois getting back on solid financial ground because it is a fight worth fighting. There is a direct correlation between the taxes we pay and the services we provide. The state of Illinois has a responsibility to educate our children, ensure the safety of our residents, and care for our seniors and veterans. On top of all of that, and especially in this time of recession, we cannot cut services that vulnerable citizens rely on to get back on their feet. Fear, hunger, drug addiction, homelessness, aging, foreclosures, or unforeseen health challenges are all equal opportunity stressors for many people in our communities.

These are not Democrat or Republican issues. Just reality. I’m not fighting for taxes; I’m fighting for people.

That's the kind of politician we need in Springfield. A reality-based leader who isn't afraid to call a spade a spade, and brings a shovel when she comes to work. Because there is lots of work to do.

Hat tips to Progress Illinois and much appreciation for all the work they do!

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