Executive Director Reports

You don't get what you don't pay for

More than 10 percent of the Illinois workforce is currently unemployed. These are folks who are actively looking for a job. Among them are dozens of AFSCME members whose jobs were lost due to the severe budget crisis afflicting every level of government. Our fellow union members in Aurora, Evanston, Madison County, Springfield, Decatur and Peoria are among those already standing in an unemployment line or facing an all-too-real threat of joining one.


But unlike automobile showrooms, shopping malls and restaurants, which have seen a dramatic drop in demand during this deep recession, there is no decline in demand for public services.


Check out the lengthy lines for unemployment checks and food stamps. There’s still plenty of snow to be plowed and giant potholes to be filled. The number of abused and neglected children has not diminished, nor are there fewer inmates in our prisons. Kids still are showing up for school ready to be taught and the number of adults clamoring for retraining at our community colleges has skyrocketed.


Yet we have office holders and candidates advocating that state and local governments act like businesses and slash their workforces. Those folks need a lesson in Economics 101. Businesses slash when there’s no demand for their product or service. When demand grows, they actually invest more money in their enterprises and they hire more staff to meet the needs of their customers. That’s what government should be doing now, not cutting back.


But government can’t meet all the demands for its services without adequate revenues. So just as businesses raise capital to invest, our state government needs to raise taxes to support the services that citizens want and need.


The problem is the nay-sayers who say government is “forcing” people to pay taxes. But who’s really forcing whom?


Do they think that the unemployed have voluntarily chosen their fate? The United States may have ended the military draft, but the army of the unemployed is not a voluntary force.


Daycare centers whose state funding has dried up are closing their doors. Are parents scrambling to find care for their kids doing it by choice, or are they being forced to do so? Family members who are perfectly happy with the care their loved ones are getting at the Howe Developmental Center, which employs 700 AFSCME members, haven’t chosen to move their children and siblings to other locations. They’re compelled to because the state won’t put up the money to keep it open.


A collapsing state budget is causing the state’s community colleges and universities to raise tuition and cancel classes. Are students choosing to pay more money and delay taking courses, or are they being forced to do so?


When I took American history in high school, I learned that our forefathers dumped tea into Boston Harbor to protest the tyranny of “taxation without representation.” Somehow that’s been distorted by modern day tea-baggers into simply “taxation is tyranny.”

Well, I don’t think our veterans who themselves fought tyranny think it’s tyrannical to tax citizens so that they, who fought to preserve our freedom, can receive care in our state’s veterans’ homes built to shelter them when nobody else is able.


I’d be surprised if senior citizens who can’t get out of their own homes regard the people who deliver their meals on wheels as someone invading their space.


An inmate housed in a state prison or a county jail can claim that tax dollars are taking his freedom away. But I suspect people in the communities from which the felons come don’t argue with having the bad guys removed from their neighborhoods and don’t object to paying taxes for that purpose.


Those lawmakers posing as defenders of freedom by opposing tax increases also argue that raising taxes will hurt the economy, particularly in times of recession. To the contrary, most economists agree that state and local government spending stimulates the economy. Building roads, bridges and schools creates jobs.


Funding a prison or a mental health center not only keeps our streets safer and our care better, and not only provides jobs for those employed there, but allows the businesses of local vendors to flourish when they sell their products to the facility.


Part of the opposition to increased taxes emanates from a flawed belief system. But, truth be told, a big part of it is political cowardice. Knowing that a tax increase is not popular with some vocal segments of voters, many lawmakers who know Illinois needs a tax increase are simply afraid to do it.


Unlike that 10 percent of the workforce that is unemployed and looking for work, legislators have a job but are refusing to do it. Our job is to convince them that if they don’t act responsibly and vote for a tax increase, they just might get “drafted” into the army of the unemployed.