Column: Blagojevich cannot have his cake and eat it too

By Matt Simmons

In last week’s State of the State address, Gov. Blagojevich unveiled a number of initiatives that he believes will benefit the people of Illinois. The headliner of his speech was the introduction of a huge public works program that Blagojevich believes will improve mass transit and education by repairing roads and building new classrooms. The plan will likely create hundreds of thousands of new construction jobs for the state. Blagojevich also introduced a plan to give tax-credits to parents of college students to help remedy rising tuition. On top of that, he campaigned for a healthcare program for honorably discharged veterans living in poverty.

The governor’s programs will be expensive. The public works project alone is expected to cost the state more than $3 billion. The tuition credit is going to cost the state $90 million a year, while the healthcare program for veterans is expected to cost the state $10 million annually.

The goals of these programs are commendable, but the speech has left many Illinoisans baffled. How could Blagojevich talk about expanding the government at a time when we are facing cuts in the programs that we already have, and at a time when we are diverting pension funds in order to give the appearance of a balanced budget?

In a state that has become solidly liberal over the last few years, the people obviously do not mind spending state money to help the less fortunate or to create jobs. The puzzling thing about Blagojevich is his reluctance to increase taxes to pay for these programs. The governor has stubbornly stood by his campaign promise not to increase income or sales taxes. Many officials in the state, including some Republicans, believe a tax increase is necessary just to sustain the current size of our government.

The governor believes he can avoid the difficult decisions surrounding spending cuts and tax increases through gimmicks. In addition to his aforementioned shenanigans with the pension fund, his plan for raising the money for his public works program involves allowing the Illinois lottery to set up a game called keno in bars and restaurants.

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    Apparently, Blagojevich does not understand the basic difference between liberals and conservatives. Liberals tolerate higher taxes and spend money on needed programs while conservatives are less likely to spend money and favor tax relief. Blagojevich wants to take the positives from each perspective while ignoring the unpopular aspects of each. I guess his philosophy is why should he pay for something now when he can have future generations pay for it later?

    The governor needs to make a choice. He needs to decide whether he is in favor of more programs or if he is in favor of lower taxes. There is no responsible way to do both. If Blagojevich was serious about his campaign pledge to not raise taxes, then he should abandon his ambitions to create new programs and work to contain spending on the programs we already have. Many liberals and some moderates would disagree with him, but they would at least have to respect him for handling the states fiscal situation and not passing it off to the next generation. Conversely, if he wants to make sure his initiatives such as his All Kids program for health care and the public works programs are funded without being fiscally irresponsible, then he should make efforts to increase tax revenue.

    If Blagojevich believes in these programs so strongly, he should show some “testicular virility” and raise taxes to pay for them. What is the governor afraid of, losing the DuPage County vote? He must realize that he cannot have it both ways. Politics is about making tough decisions. Nobody likes to raise taxes or cut beneficial programs, but we have to do it. By doing neither, we are creating a fiscal situation that could cripple our state’s spending capacity long into the future.

    Matt Simmons is a senior in LAS. His column appears Fridays. He can be reached at [email protected].