Thursday, October 30, 2014

Why I'm voting for Quinn: rewarding responsibility

This is a post for people who are a little worried about Illinois' economy and kind of like the vague idea that we should improve it by shaking things up.

I want to explain why I'm voting for Pat Quinn and the Democratic ticket.

Rewarding Responsibility

There's one big problem with Illinois: underfunded public pensions.

We have a huge economy (about the size of Saudi Arabia). People move here for economic opportunities. We draw in most of the talent from the Midwest. But our public pensions for teachers, professors, bureaucrats and other workers is short what it needs to pay out. Imagine a mortgage on a house where payments have been short for years. Suddenly, to keep the house out of foreclosure, you have to make double or triple monthly payments. It's a big deal problem, but it is solvable.

No one has done more than Pat Quinn (and the Democratic majority) to solve this problem.

Because they have raised more money from a higher income tax and -- here's the important part -- put those billions into those underfunded public pensions every year when it would have been much easier and politically popular not to.

If Illinois has this kind of responsible leadership in the 50s or 60s or 70s or 80s or 90s or 2000s of making full pension payments, there wouldn't be a pension problem today. We can moan about it and try to blame somebody, but the facts are facts, so we're the ones who have to make more payments not to catch up for the sins of decades past.

It would have been easier for Pat Quinn to keep taxes low or to spend more money on education or health care or capital investments. No one gets excited about the state making a huge pension payment. There is no political benefit to making a massive pension payment. None. It's just the responsible thing to do for the long-term benefit of our state.

Pat Quinn and the Democratic majorities in the General Assembly have made that politically difficult and incredible responsible choice to put billions into the pension fund. The percentage of our state budget that we spend on pension payments is the highest in the country -- by a lot. It's about 22%. That's a heavy price to pay. But the point is: we are paying it! Because that's responsible. That's how we fix the problem. And it is Pat Quinn and the Democratic majorities who are the responsible ones that are taking a short-term political hit to do the right thing.

For that reason alone, they deserve re-election.

Facts versus Fables

On top of that, Pat Quinn and a majority of Democratic legislators voted to reduce pension benefits. This was incredibly unpopular. This caused, essentially, a civil war in the Democratic Party since the Democratic Party is all about increasing income for regular people through expanded pensions like Social Security.

But because the pension system have been underfunded for decades (like skipping mortgage payments for years....and now you have to make triple payments), even with the huge increase in pension payments, the benefit increases need to be reduced.

This was a Democratic vote. A majority of Republican legislators voted against that bill.

Bruce Rauner actively campaigned against the bill and said very publicly that legislators should not vote for it. He is still campaigning against it. Check out what he is telling the University of Illinois Alumni Association: Rauner is saying the pension reform bill was a horrible idea and the way to solve the through economic growth! Not through making full pension payments or by reducing pension benefits....just through economic growth! Magic beans!

For that reason alone, Bruce Rauner deserves to be rejected. He was -- and remains -- blazingly irresponsible. On the biggest fiscal problem facing our state, Rauner ducks and dodges and tries to score short-term political points by bashing the only responsible effort to solve the pension underfunding.

Now, I get the appeal. The dude is rich. And he made it himself. He may have made it in some super-shady ways by sucking value out of companies and enriching himself and his associates...but still, there is something impressive about a self-made billionaire.

And when a self-made billionaire salesman says "hey, trust me, I can make the whole state rich too" -- that sounds pretty nice.

But it's a fable.

Fables are fun. They are comforting. They lull us into complacency. Rauner's fable is that he can bring back prosperity because he's a billionaire ... that we can cut taxes and increase spending ... and that if we "shake up Springfield", we can "bring back Illinois." What does that mean? Who cares! It's a fable! Just believe it!

It's a lot easier to blame "corrupt politicians" and "insiders" for underfunded pension funds than it is to make a full pension payment and to reduce pension benefits. It's a lot more popular to tell an average voter that all we have to do is take out the insider politicians and then things will get better than it is to tell the average voter that we're all going to pay an extra 2% or so of our income and retirees are going to get a smaller pension.

A crafty salesman will say anything to close a deal. A responsible person will tell the truth and do the hard thing to solve problems.

Bruce Rauner is selling a fable. Pension reform is bad. Increasing the income tax is bad. Politicians are bad. And I'm good. If you elect me, everything is going to work out.

Pat Quinn and the Democratic majority are solving the problems and explaining how the responsible steps are hard steps. That we're solving the underfunded pension systems by finally making full (and difficult) payments from a higher income tax. And we're reducing benefits. But we're on the path to solving them.

That's the long-range, long-term, responsible stewardship we deserve from our leaders. And that's why I'm rejecting the short-term sales job of the Rauner fable and rewarding the responsibility of Pat Quinn and the Democratic majority by voting for the Democratic ticket.

I really hope you do the same.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A moral test: would you give someone health insurance? Or not?

This is a moral test.

Imagine the last person you saw working a low-wage job: the busboy or the cashier. Imagine you know they don't have health insurance. And imagine you had the power to get them insurance. No cost to you. It wouldn't be great insurance, but it would be something. And all you have to do to get that person health insurance is to look them in the eye and say "here you go."

Would you do that?

Or would you rather them go without insurance?

It's all up to you.

It's a real question.

Would you give someone else health insurance if you could?

Keep in mind, you (dear reader) almost certainly have your own health insurance. You wouldn't think of going without it because you wouldn't want to go broke if something bad were to happen. So if you could give the cashier or busboy the same level of comfort and peace of mind and stability and basic health that you enjoy from having health insurance.....would you?

I would.

I imagine you would too.

How could you not?

But the hard truth is, lots of people would say no.

Lots of people would rather that cashier or telemarketer or secretary go without health insurance. They'd rather have them avoid doctors and hospitals when they get sick. They'd rather make those people live with the constant fear of huge medical bills from a car accident or cancer that they can't afford. Lots of people would say no -- health insurance is vital to them and their family, but for other people? No.

Would you say no?

Governors actually have that decision. They decide whether warehouse workers and janitors and cashiers and cab drivers can get Medicaid...or whether they have to live without it.

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn decided to say yes. And -- think about this -- 650,000 people in Illinois have health insurance this year because he (and the Democratic General Assembly) said yes. That's a lot of people who have some stability and dignity and the chance to get better. 650,000 people.

Bruce Rauner would have said no.

If he were Governor, he would have told the cashier and the busboy and the cab driver no. No health insurance for you -- even though it was free. He still would have said no.

In his defense, he's not alone. Lots of Republican governors and Republican legislators said no. Almost all of them, actually. They would rather people stay uninsured and live in fear of huge medical bills so stay far, far away from expensive hospitals and doctors and nurses, no matter how bad their stomach feels or how high their fever gets or how much their knee hurts. No health insurance for them.

See, one great part of Obamacare is that the federal government decided (back when Democrats ran things) to buy health insurance for people who make very little money. But state governments actually sign people up for the insurance, and only the states with Democratic governors decided to say yes to people and get them insurance. Almost all Republican governors said no. They'd rather people say uninsured. Even though the federal government was paying for the insurance, the state governments refused to let people sign up for it.

This is a true story. It's almost hard to believe.

And Bruce Rauner said if were the Governor last year at the time when Pat Quinn said yes to getting 650,000 people in our state health insurance from Medicaid, he would have said no to them all. No, you can't have this insurance. I can have health insurance. My family can have it. My loved ones can have it? But you? No. You can't. You live in fear. And in pain. And if you have cancer? Or break your leg? Or get a horrible flu? Not my problem. Even though the federal government is paying for the insurance, Bruce Rauner would not have allowed people in Illinois to sign up for that health insurance.

I think that's a failure of a moral test.

If you looked that tired casher in the eyes before saying yes or no, I think you'd say yes. Because you wouldn't want to hurt someone intentionally -- and that's what denying someone health insurance is. Intentionally hurting people who already are in enough pain.

So would you say no to that cashier?

Because if you vote for Bruce Rauner, you are saying no. That's the hard truth.

Just like the people who voted for Republican governors who refused to let people sign up for health insurance, and now those millions of people are living with physical pain and they aren't catching cancer early enough to get it out of their bodies because they don't have insurance. All those people who voted for Republican governors said no.

Maybe they didn't realize it at the time. But now it's clear.

I mean, let's face it. If you're reading this blog, you're almost certainly fairly well off. You are probably not on Medicaid. You probably never will be. So you and I are deciding in this election -- like in every election -- whether we're going to make other people's lives better of worse off. Like that tired cashier who makes 8 dollars an hour. Does she deserve health insurance? Yes or no?

Bruce Rauner says he loves Illinois. But he clearly doesn't love all the people who live here. Because for 650,000 Illinoisians who have health insurance this year, he'd rather hurt them than help them. And that's immoral. That's why I won't vote for him. And I hope you won't either.