Two things came to mind as I listened to Governor Pritzker’s budget address last Wednesday. The first was a quote by President George Washington, whose 287th birthday was February 22, that reads, “If we cannot learn wisdom from experience, it is hard to say where it is to be found.”
The second was an old saying you may have heard before, “The proof is in the pudding.” I remember the funny commercials from the 80s with the tagline, “Jello Pudding, you can’t be a kid without it.” Now I like pudding as much as the next person, so I began to wonder where this saying came from.
As it turns out, “The proof is in the pudding” is a paraphrase of the 15th century British idiom, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating.” This was before Europeans tasted the magic of chocolate or vanilla; and pudding was very different. It was a savory dish in the Middle Ages similar to the Scottish sausage, haggis. By saying, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” they meant, the only way to know if we’ve made this sausage right is to eat it. If it tastes bad, or you get sick, well, then we prepared it wrong. Government has had a growing tendency to operate with the attitude that, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating,” and I think that should change.
Governor Pritzker said two things I agree with on Wednesday. “Taxpayers deserve to know their dollars are being spent wisely,” and “Programs that don’t work need to be eliminated.” It sounds like the Governor thinks we shouldn’t wait to eat the pudding either.
He can prove that by addressing two issues before bringing the budget to a vote. First, the budget spends money on programs without providing evidence that the programs work, and in some cases when the evidence tells us the programs don’t work.
An example of the former is the $5 million to increase spending in the Illinois State Police. The purpose of the money is to create the new “Firearm Dealer License Certification Program,” to credential and license gun dealers. The bill creating this department was passed with no evidence to explain how many acts of gun violence will be prevented by spending this money. Please remember gun dealers in Illinois and all states are already licensed and regulated by the federal government.
The budget goes a step further by increasing funding for Early Childhood Block Grants by 17 percent. Early Childhood Block Grants are used to fund programs that provide Preschool for All, parent training, and home visits. If the goal is to eliminate programs that don’t work, why are we funding Preschool for All? The evaluation on child outcomes from SRI International to the Illinois State Board of Education found that Preschool for All increased program participants vocabulary, while showing no change for literacy, and a decline in math skills. The evaluation excluded the city of Chicago.
SRI’s assessment mirrored a study of the Head Start program conducted in 2010. Tennessee evaluated its prekindergarten program through 3rd grade in a 2015 report, finding that the program showed no benefit for enrolled students by the end of 3rd grade.
There are a number of reasons to explain this data. The Governor’s budget does not address those issues. At the very least, working families deserve to know how Governor Pritzker will require Early Childhood Grant recipients to change what they do in order for their programs to work, before we vote on giving those programs more money.
The second issue is that the budget assumes $1.1 billion in new revenue from taxes and fees that haven’t been passed, and in some cases on products and services that don’t even exist. It would be like someone, after being told they don’t make enough money to qualify for the mortgage they want, telling the bank, “Don’t worry, I’m going to start a business that will make enough money for me to qualify.” I don’t see that person getting approved, do you?
The three largest taxes are on Managed Care Organizations ($390 million estimated), sports gambling ($212 million estimated), and legalizing marijuana ($170 million estimated). How will taxing health insurance companies impact your health coverage? How much will it increase the cost of your health insurance? I think taxpayers deserve to know how this tax will affect them before a vote.
In the case of both sports gambling and legalizing marijuana, there is a healthy body of evidence telling us about the increase each will have on social and healthcare costs. It’s irresponsible to legalize sports betting or marijuana without detailing the estimated costs as well.
Another concern is why we’re estimating this much revenue. Some of you remember the rosy picture Springfield painted about how video slot machines would solve our revenue problems. We were promised that video gambling would help fund a $31 billion dollar building program, by raising $300 million each year to cover bond payments.
Springfield borrowed billions of dollars against the potential video gambling revenue. Eight years later, they were short on the bond payments by $1.3 billion. Working families can’t afford for Springfield and the Chicago Machine to get it wrong a second time.
I’m concerned that Governor Pritzker will have us “eat the pudding” before we’ve done the hard work to determine that it’s any good. I think we deserve better.
Budget guru Dave Ramsey says, “The first step to teaching your kids how to handle money is being a good example.” Let’s “prove the pudding” before we are forced to eat it and show our kids what reasonable and responsible government should be.
If you have any additional thoughts or ideas, you can visit my website at www.senatorstewart.com and use the form to send me an e-mail.