In addition to our Legislative Coffee, I have an excellent meeting with Director Casey about the use of flexible day services for people in the Home-Based Services Program and CILA. I also was able to catch up with Mark Doyle on the rebalancing efforts for Murray.Today I’m in Chicago for the Health Care & Family Services (HFS) Medicaid Advisory Committee of which I am a member. I will also meet with Director Romano and Chief of Staff Jack Lavin for a rescheduled meeting from last week on rebalancing.Here is a good Op Ed from the State Journal Register from Ralph Martire
Ralph Martire: Illinois’ short-term decision making problem
Most folks realize complex problems require complex solutions. There really isn’t a magic “silver bullet” that can solve multifaceted challenges. That said, what if there is a policy lead balloon — that is, one core problem that begets many of the issues confronting Illinois today?
Well, this lead balloon is real, and was laid bare recently in Springfield. No, it isn’t the deficit, nor even the unfunded pension liability. As bad as those things are, they’re just consequences of, and would be solvable if not for, this lead balloon.
So what is this raison d’être for so many problems that vex state government? The answer is both simple and obvious: It is the overwhelming political impetus that encourages decision makers to focus their time and effort solely on the short-term effects of systemic problems, rather than resolving the long-term causes thereof. The reasons for this shortsighted approach are clear. Elected officials are rational actors, the vast majority of whom want to improve the quality of life for their constituents. This of course requires that they be elected. And therein lies the rub.
The current political environment rewards sound bites and pithy mailers — not problem solving. It’s hard to get elected today if the fruits of your labor won’t materialize until some not-so-foreseeable tomorrow.
Consider how this plays out when the General Assembly and governor sit down to create a budget for next year but don’t have adequate resources to do so. Indeed, after the deficit that’s anticipated to be left over from this year is factored in, Illinois will be short around 33 percent of the revenue it needs to cover the spending on services the Governor requested in his FY2014 proposal. That’s a ginormous challenge, since over $9 out of $10 of the General Fund goes to education, healthcare, public safety and social services — all of which the polls show the vast majority of voters not only support, but don’t want to see cut.
Given the state’s fiscal condition, avoiding significant cuts requires reforming tax policy to raise the revenue needed to fund services adequately. Yet raising taxes doesn’t generally poll well either. Moreover, any support of a tax increase — even when completely justified — can easily be misrepresented by an opponent in the coming election, primary or general, irrespective of party.
Which is why you see the events that unfolded recently. The Senate Appropriations Committee met to hear testimony about how much the state had racked up in unpaid bills. A lot, as it turns out, well over $9 billion. While focused like a laser on finding out how bad the situation is, the Senate was far less interested in why the state had accumulated this backlog. That’s because the data are clear that flawed tax policy — the state’s revenue doesn’t grow with the economy while the cost of delivering services does — is the culprit.
Indeed, despite both implementing real cuts of around 24 percent in service spending across the board since 2000 and passing a temporary tax increase in 2011, the state’s revenue still doesn’t grow with service costs. Informing voters that the temporary increase merely alleviated part of the fiscal stress facing Illinois and that more comprehensive, sustainable tax reform is what’s really needed, well, that doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker.
Justifying more cuts to things like mental health, child care for single working parents and K-12 education as “living within the state’s means,” on the other hand, is politically far more facile, uses rhetoric that resonates with voters and even appeases some editorial boards. Which is politically great in the short term. But this short-term expediency is the very lead balloon that prevents the state from honestly evaluating crucial, long-term structural questions, like whether its means actually support life.