Gov. Pritzker, it’s time to show people how government can work for them

One big reason why the Fair Tax failed is because people don’t trust government. Listen to them, governor, as you make those budget cuts.

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Gov. J.B. Pritzker answers questions from the media on the latest COVID-19 numbers

Gov. J.B. Pritzker, you must make government work for people, Phil Kadner writes. In this file photo, Pritzker answers questions from the media on the latest COVID-19 numbers on Nov. 5, 2020.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Make the government work right.

That’s my advice for Gov. J.B. Pritzker now that his so-called Fair Tax, the graduated income tax constitutional amendment, has failed.

I supported the amendment. It made sense for a lot of reasons. This state needed more money before the COVID-19 pandemic hit and now it’s going to need more because sales tax revenues are going to be down, businesses are going broke and incomes are likely to decrease, meaning there will be less money for government programs.

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Taxes are the price we pay for civilization. All those unemployed folks seeking checks from the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) this past year certainly wanted government working for them.

And that’s the problem. The program didn’t work as well as it should have. No one answered the phones. People didn’t get checks soon enough and the government ended up sending money to people who were scamming the system.

Right in the middle of the campaign for a fair tax, Pritzker had a chance to show people the government at its best and instead they saw government at its worst. That’s bad marketing. It’s terrible public relations. Too often that’s what our government does best.

We don’t expect you or the government to be perfect. But we expect better.

There tend to be two kinds of politicians in my experience. Those who want to spend more money on programs to help people and those who want to cut spending and tell people in trouble to take a hike.

What we need, all of us, is politicians who will step up to the plate and make the government work the way it should.

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One big reason the tax amendment failed is that people don’t trust the government. They’ve seen too many examples of corruption and mismanagement. They’ve encountered too many government employees who just don’t care. Citizens desperate for help end up listening to a busy signal or told to visit some website where there is no human being to hear their complaint.

What happens when the government makes cuts is that the good people, the government workers who actually answer the phones and try to help the public, end up unemployed.

The programs that need cutting escape the axe, but those that do help folks are destroyed.

I’m reminded of the massive cuts to mental health programs in this state over the years. Those put a lot of sick people on the streets self-medicating on illegal drugs and committing crimes. The courthouses and jails became overcrowded and local police departments spent a lot of time responding to calls about mentally ill people acting out.

It didn’t save money. It cost us taxpayers money. And it hurt people. Not just sick people, but also the general public.

We need to do better.

How? Maybe put together groups right now (businesspeople, college professors, working folks, students and not-for-profit volunteers) and ask them for help. This can’t be any 10-year plan. It has to happen fast. We need a way to make those cuts you are going to make this coming year more effective, governor.

You need to convince people you are listening to them.

I supported the graduated income tax 30 years ago. But I knew it would likely fail because I listened to people who told me why they hated the idea.

The government always wants more of my money, they said. Folks in public office don’t care about me. They just use my wages to line their pockets and those of their friends.

This may seem like the worst time to make things right. I disagree. This is when ordinary people need their government the most. The COVID-19 epidemic is stalking their communities. Businesses are in trouble. Peoples jobs are at risk. They need to put food on their tables and keep a roof over their heads.

Make the government work now and people will remember for generations to come. They will also remember if it fails them.


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