Has Madigan given up on economic opportunity and responsible government?

By Michael Lucci, Illinois Policy Instiitute | Sep 13, 2016

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s current tax-and-spend policies and protection of special interests stand in contrast to the speaker’s past statements declaring the need for economic growth and opportunity.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s decadeslong reign has culminated in recent years with a steep decline in economic opportunity for working-class Illinoisans and a cratering of the state’s financial position. Despite this track record, Madigan describes himself as the defender of the middle class against tax and regulatory reforms because he claims, without citing any evidence, that reforms would reduce the wages and standard of living for the middle class. Meanwhile, Madigan champions an income tax hike, which would reduce the take-home wages and standard of living of Illinoisans. This curious mix of political positions offers no vision for a brighter economic future.

Madigan’s present policies at odds with past statements declaring the need for economic growth and opportunity

Madigan’s current insistence on tax hikes and opposition to regulatory reforms stands in stark contrast with his past statements on economic issues. In fact, in a 1988 interview with Illinois Issues Madigan went so far as to claim that the best way for government to help families is to create a great business environment. In his words:

… the No. 1 concern of an ordinary family in this state … is simply to be able to live decently … to educate their children … and lastly, to provide for their retirement. Those are the No. 1 concerns of an ordinary family, and the best way for government to respond to those concerns is to work to have a good business environment so that there are economic opportunities for everyone in the state.

Yet Illinois is now regularly considered the worst state in the region to do business, and one of the worst in the country. Business leaders have compared doing business under Madigan’s reign to dealing with a Third World country. The cost of doing business – driven higher by rising taxes, smothering regulations and the inefficiencies inherent in corruption – has steadily risen in Illinois.

Ironically, Madigan once warned Democrats against becoming a “tax and spend” party and proclaimed the need for efficient government

Madigan also previously appeared to believe that his Democratic Party needed to be the party of economic opportunity, and that if it failed in this task it would become the minority party. In 1988, Madigan said:

In my view, the Democratic party should be a party of economic opportunity…When it is no longer a party of opportunity and becomes a “tax and spend” party, then it will be the minority party in the country.

It’s hard to see how any definition of economic opportunity would fit the current agenda pushed by Madigan as the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. There is no vision to expand economic opportunity, because economic opportunity can only be expanded through economic growth. And the policies Madigan has embraced include onerous regulations that burden job-creating businesses, as well as high taxes that drive businesses and residents out of state and divert money from productive use in the private sector toward wasteful government spending. In fact, the Madigan-led Democratic majorities in the Illinois General Assembly have failed to pass a balanced budget for more than a decade, while enacting tax hikes at every level of government in Illinois. This is the epitome of a “tax and spend” philosophy.

Another problem that Madigan thought worth addressing at the time was efficient use of taxpayer dollars in government administration. Madigan said:

It’s an ongoing responsibility of the governor and the legislature to work to provide for an efficient government in all of the departments of the government. I think that when people pay taxes they have a right to expect an efficient government as a return on those tax dollars.

It is hard to reconcile this goal with Madigan’s history of lavishing benefits on government unions at the expense of the taxpayers who fund these government salaries, benefits and pensions. Illinois’ exploding pension crisis, which Madigan facilitated though over-promising and under-funding, is just one example of how the cost of government in Illinois runs billions beyond any semblance of an “efficient government.”

Has Madigan become too politically compromised to govern according to the ideals he once heralded?

Maybe Madigan never meant what he said about efficient government and economic opportunity, and his one-time opposition to tax hikes was mere political posturing. Regardless, Illinois needs a speaker who understands that the best way to help Illinois families is to foster economic growth and business investment. At one time, Madigan at least pretended to understand this, and he needs to remember it now as Illinois slogs through a jobless 21st century.

Perhaps in the process of cobbling together his massive power structure, Madigan has made commitments to enough different factions that it would now be impossible for him to act in the best interest of the state without compromising the narrow interests of one of his political constituencies.

The government unions that back Madigan and depend on tax dollars for their salaries and pensions do not benefit from a lower state tax burden or more streamlined government. Trial lawyers, unions and some health providers have much to gain from a workers’ compensation system that is prohibitively expensive for businesses and so acutely in need of reform that even the speaker’s daughter Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan acknowledges it. And Madigan can’t lower property taxes without going against the financial interest of his own property-tax-appeals business, even though high property taxes have driven many Illinoisans out of their homes and businesses out of Cook County.

Madigan concluded his 1988 interview with Illinois Issues by describing how he would like to be remembered after he retired. Madigan’s summary:

That as a public servant, I was honest, dedicated, and both personally and governmentally a man of integrity.

If Madigan wants to be remembered as he said, he needs to recall the importance of economic opportunity he preached in this interview. At that time, he lamented the fact that Illinois had lost its position of national economic leadership over the preceding decades. And now the state is in even worse shape. Illinois has devolved into an economic and financial basket case, become the Midwest’s top producer of economic refugees and the region’s top exporter of talent. That all occurred on Madigan’s watch.

Madigan should remember his past words and reflect on the needs of Illinois’ dwindling middle class. After all, both personal and governmental integrity demand he dedicate himself to the common welfare of all Illinoisans rather than the narrow financial interests of his political constituencies.

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