The State of Illinois lost a great legislator last year when Republican State Representative and Floor Leader Mark Batinick retired. He was a fiscal hawk who was a true problem-solver. He did not promote a partisan agenda, but instead viewed policy ideas, regardless of who sponsored them, through a comprehensive lens of cost-benefit-consequence. Mark and I had a conversation the other day about the dangers of unintended consequences, and how sometimes legislation that looks and sounds good can actually have disastrous results.
No one can deny that the Democratic Party has controlled the legislative agenda in Illinois for decades. Even when we had a Republican Governor from 2015 to 2019, Democrats still held majorities in the Senate and House, so they decided which bills were heard and passed, and which ones never had an opportunity to reach the Governor’s desk. This lack of checks and balances has gone on for years.
With full control of the Senate and House for the last 20 years and control of the Governor’s Office for 16 of the last 20 years, the policies in place today are a direct reflection of the majority party’s ideals and priorities. So why, after decades of control over state policy, was Illinois’ economic racial equality ranked ‘worst in the nation’ in a recent WalletHub study? Why, when equity-driven policies have been prioritized over almost all other policy initiatives, are minority Illinoisans worse off than ever? Answer: Democrat Leadership!
In addition to Illinois’ local and state tax burdens being among the nation’s worst, our state’s property tax system is a perfect example of how public policy hurts working families and, in many cases, disproportionally, minority families. Our system perpetuates poverty by placing the biggest tax burdens on families living in communities that do not have high property values. Tax rates are outrageous in Northwest Illinois and often worse in some south suburban communities, and with a disproportionate percentage of a home’s value paid in property taxes, working families have less money to help lift themselves out of poverty. And in Cook County and its suburbs, a significantly higher tax rate is applied to commercial properties, which drives businesses away and eliminates job opportunities for those who want to get ahead.
The way schools are funded is another example of how decisions made by the legislature can have detrimental effects on lower-income and minority populations. Chicago Public Schools, for example, spend more money per student than almost any other public school district in the country. Even though Chicago schools spend close to $30,000 per student annually, recent test scores indicated that less than 30% of the students were performing at grade level for reading and math.
Five years ago, the legislature approved a pilot “Invest in Kids” Tax Credit Scholarship Program that allowed Illinoisans to receive a tax break on funds donated to a program to help kids in underperforming schools improve their chances for success by moving to a different school. The program has been a tremendous success, and many of the beneficiaries of these scholarships were from Chicago or other failing schools. Invest in Kids literally changed lives, and created opportunities for kids whose parents would not have otherwise been able to put their child in a better learning environment. This beneficial program sunsets at the end of this year, and despite pleas from Republicans and thousands of families that need those scholarships, Democrats failed to take action to extend the program. My only hope is that the majority party recognizes this grave error and acts during the upcoming Fall Veto Session to make Invest in Kids permanent.
And we cannot forget the Democrats’ soft-on-crime policies that place the rights of criminals ahead of the rights of victims and families. Their policies have created a turnstile form of criminal justice that places many criminals back onto the streets within hours of an arrest. High-crime areas see property values plummet and economic activity falter. Businesses leave, jobs go away, and again, minority populations are left to wonder how they will survive.
My friend Mark said we need to choose results over rhetoric, and he is right. Flashy policies that look good in headlines are often having catastrophic results, and it is time to really consider the possible unintended consequences of every political initiative that is brought forward in Springfield. And when Democrats say they fight for minority families, the results show differently. I know we can do better.