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Teachable Moments

Illinoisans wallets may be safe for now.

By 4.29.10

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Needless to say, I wasn't among the 15,000 Illinoisans who marched around the state capitol last week demanding higher taxes.

Neither was anyone else I know.

It wasn't the price of our heavily taxed gasoline that kept us away. (Most of the protesters who went to Springfield traveled for free on union buses.) It was more that we were too busy being state revenue generators to take the day off.

That and the idea of poring more of our money down that giant sinkhole called Springfield just seemed, well, irresponsible.

Sure, we know Illinois is in worse financial shape than post-earthquake Haiti and General Motors combined, and is something like a gazillion dollars in the hole. States-wise only California is in a worse mess, but they've got The Governator to rescue them from their man-made disaster. Who's going to rescue us? We've got one governor in the jailhouse -- at least one, I've lost count -- and another in line. But these are all arguments against a tax increase and for keeping our money squirreled away in a fireproof safe buried under a mattress in the back yard.

Most of us would pay our income taxes without too much grumbling if we knew the money was being spent responsibly, and not blown on the political equivalent of cocaine and whores. Illinoisans, after all, aren't as tight-fisted as, say, Iowans. It's just that we'd sooner trust our cash to a dozen Sig Eps spending Spring Break in Vegas.

Of course, all those protesters shouting, "Raise my taxes! Raise my taxes!" were really talking about raising every one else's taxes. There wouldn't be much impact on the state's budget to only raise the taxes of 15,000 bureaucrats, teachers, and government workers -- though it might make some of us feel better. There was a lot of twisted logic coming out of the mouths of protesters. "People are hurting, that's why we need a tax increase," said Henry Bayer, head of the Illinois chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

Which is kind of like saying, "People are starving, trample my tomatoes!"

The Chicago Tribune called the march the "largest Capitol protest since the Equal Rights Amendment crowds a quarter-century ago." Say what you will about the feminists, but at least the equal rights crowds weren't wrestling us for our wallets. All they wanted were the same rights men have, which, come to think of it, are a lot fewer now than they were a quarter century ago.

MANY OF THE protesters were teachers whose cry was the familiar: "What about the children? Won't somebody think about the children!" Again, they really meant, "What about my job? Won't somebody think about my job?" We are thinking. We're thinking, my school district just cut 40 teachers and staff, but things are tough all over. You want to talk about tough, I work at a newspaper. Our staff has been reduced by two-thirds and our salaries -- well, let's not go there. Yet the only reporters in Springfield last week were the ones interviewing and writing glowing profiles of the protesters.

Many teachers came armed with letters they'd asked their students to write, letters demanding their parents' taxes be raised (were parents aware of this?). Talk about a missed teachable moment. The lesson students should've taken away from this fiasco is one of fiscal responsibility. Instead our kids learned if you roll around on the floor and cry loud enough you might get your way.

And that it is okay to live on borrowed money and not pay your bills.

Many Illinoisans blame the economy for the budget crisis, but other states seem to be doing fine. Texas is doing mighty fine. Right across the river, Missouri, which has a balanced budget amendment, is managing well enough. Illinois has a balanced budget amendment too, though you would never know it. Apparently the law doesn't apply to the lawmakers. Meanwhile, state revenue is at the third-highest level in Illinois history.

Despite the protesters' best efforts, it seems unlikely Illinoisans will see higher taxes this year. It is an election year after all. And the only thing politicians like more than spending our money is getting reelected.

Lucky for us.

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About the Author
Christopher Orlet writes from St. Louis.