Sometimes it’s helpful to look at the actions of others in order to judge the success or failings of one’s own dealings. Two issues making recent headlines help to put into perspective the hard decisions we’ve made in Wisconsin and the comparative successes those decisions have brought us.
It was announced this week that the California’s “high-speed” rail stimulus project had jumped in price from an initial estimate of $34 billion to upwards of $98 billion. Additionally, California has been forced to revise its timeline for the project. At the time that President Obama passed his stimulus act, proponents claimed that the rail line would be operational by 2020. Now they admit that trains won’t be running until at least 2033.
Runaway costs and unrealistic timelines were just two of the reasons that I fought President Obama’s rail boondoggle in Wisconsin and applauded Governor Walker’s decision to kill it. Imagine the cuts that would have to be made if we had accepted those stimulus dollars and just now were discovering that Wisconsin’s taxpayers would be on the hook for an additional $2-3 billion or more. While the decision to reject those stimulus dollars was controversial at the time, the situation California now finds itself in proves our choice prudent.
Another story making headlines is the virtual death spiral of debt that our neighbor to the south has fallen into. Illinois owes $200 billion more than it has. As of October it was $5 billion behind in payments to local units of government, private sector suppliers to the state, and health care providers. Things have gotten so bad that the Chicago Tribune recently ran an editorial with the headline: “Illinois is losing the hearts and minds of the people who put people to work here.”
What has been the response in Illinois to its debt crisis? They’ve raised taxes and borrowed more. While we got to work making tough decisions to reform Wisconsin’s government and to cut spending, the Democrat-controlled government in Illinois raised taxes by 66% on individuals and 45% on employers. Now that taxing has failed, Governor Pat Quinn is proposing to borrow an additional $4.5 billion- an amount that won’t even cover that state’s past due bills up to this point.
The results are unsurprising. Unemployment in Illinois just hit 10% (more than 25% higher than it is in Wisconsin) and it looks to get worse before it gets better. Major companies like Sears-Roebuck and Caterpillar are courting offers to move to other states.
Dramatically reforming the way government does business, as we continue to do in Wisconsin, is by necessity controversial and difficult. Still, as California and Illinois show, the unfortunate consequences of not making those tough choices can be far more damaging to a state and its citizens than trying to avoid a little controversy.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald is a Republican from Horicon. He is a candidate for U.S. Senate.