The New Class Warfare

Wisconsin, like my home state of Illinois, is facing a serious budget crisis. Unlike Illinois, Wisconsin has a bold chief executive in Governor Scott Walker willing and able to confront a crisis with straight talk and serious solutions. Meanwhile, 14 Democratic Senators from Wisconsin have been enjoying some of Chicago’s fine dining and playing hide and seek all across our fine state. While most other states in the union are tackling public employee pensions, cutting taxes and razing roadblocks to prosperity, Illinois remains the last bastion of fiscal foolishness as legislators – from not only Wisconsin but Indiana and Ohio – cross our border to avoid responsibility back home. Interestingly, Illinois has lost taxpayers, employers and jobs to each of these surrounding states for years. In return, Illinois is gaining big government legislators unwilling or unable to confront reality. This is what is referred to in international policy as a “trade imbalance.”

This week I was a guest on Chicago Tonight to discuss the Wisconsin budget crisis and standoff that has made national headlines over the past month. Bob Edgar, president and CEO of Common Cause joined me on the panel.

The debate in Wisconsin distills and highlights two crucial issues that weren’t fully fleshed out during this segment: the involvement of money in politics and the new class warfare. Common Cause, Mr. Edgar’s organization, is a highly vocal critic of political activists and philanthropists David and Charles Koch. The brothers have invested millions over the years in various charities and public policy organizations. They believe in certain causes (as do most people) and invest in them to educate and empower people in the democratic process. Billionaire George Soros and wealthy liberals fund Common Cause and other like-minded groups and they, too, have the right to do this in our wonderful democracy. There is plenty of money on both sides of the political spectrum. There is an important difference, however, between free market activism and groups like Common Cause: the latter seeks change not by choice, but change by coercion.

The Wisconsin debate also brings into focus the new class warfare, one we’re seeing right here in Illinois. On one side of the issue are the public employee unions that advocate for unaccountable, unsustainable government. On the other, hardworking taxpayers who subsidize these public employees’ lavish compensation and pension packages. Too often what’s lost in these discussions is that for every public employee complaining about having to forgo a raise or pay a little bit more for their health care benefits, there are thousands of private sector workers who haven’t had raises in years, have always paid much more than public sector workers for their health care benefits, and whose hard work and wages pay for government. It is time for someone to advocate for taxpayers at the negotiating table.

Mr. Edgar brought up a great point last night. He mentioned that he came from a working class neighborhood and that we need to look out for citizens with all income levels, not just the wealthy and well-connected. I couldn’t agree more. My father grew up in a blue-collar neighborhood – in Wisconsin, in fact. Whether it is in Wisconsin, Illinois, or on the federal level, we simply cannot continue to expand government and subsidize outrageous public employee salaries and pensions on the backs of the working class and poor.

Let’s be very upfront about this. It isn’t the wealthy that are hurt the most by tax hikes and irresponsible spending. It is the single mother who can’t get a job because doing business in Illinois, for example, is made prohibitive by decades of bad public policy and worse governance. It is the private sector worker who has to work overtime and into his 60’s subsidizing his public employee neighbor’s millionaire pension. This is unsustainable and immoral, and it needs to change.