McCaleb: Are Illinois Republicans departing from party’s core principles?

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Among the core principles listed on the GOP’s national web site are these:

“Leaders should serve people, not special interests.”

“Government should be smaller, smarter and more efficient.”

“Paychecks should not be wasted on poorly run government programs.”

Somewhere along the way, many Republican state lawmakers in Illinois have lost track of their party’s principles.

First, they introduced a new budget package last week that will require more than $5 billion in tax hikes to close a massive deficit in their spending plan.

Illinois is expected to bring in about $31 billion in revenue in the fiscal year that ends June 30, yet the Republican budget calls for spending of $36 billion. Adding more than $5 billion to that represents an overall tax hike of a whopping 16 percent. Far from government becoming smaller, that’s government expansion at a sickening rate. 

Of course, tax increases are the last thing families here need. Illinoisans already pay the highest combined local and state taxes in the country, and many are leaving as a result. The state has seen its population decline each of the last three years, and during that span it has lost more people on net than any other state.

So, yeah, let’s ignore the data and burden our residents – and businesses – with even higher taxes. I’m sure that will slow the exodus.

If caving on the tax increases wasn’t bad enough, Republicans followed that up with what can only be characterized as a massive pork-barrel spending plan.

Sen. Bill Brady, R-Bloomington, quietly filed a capital appropriations bill last Thursday that seeks to fund more than $169 million in pet projects throughout the state. Most of these projects date to the Pat Quinn era. Brady’s 458-page bill lists hundreds upon hundreds of projects in lawmakers’ home districts, none of which have anything to do with solving the state’s budget crisis.

“I can’t tell you that they’re not earmarks,” Brady told Illinois News Network on Monday. “One person’s earmark is someone else’s public safety. One person’s pork project is someone else’s jobs program. Anyone can call them what they want.”

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Earmarks, synonymous with the pejorative “pork-barrel,” are allocations of taxpayer money to fund specific projects in lawmakers’ home districts. They’re often used to cajole lawmakers to vote for a less palatable piece of legislation, such as a massive tax hike.

State Rep. David McSweeney, R-Barrington Hills, didn’t mince words when criticizing his fellow Republican’s capital spending bill.

“This is a low point for Bill Brady and the [state] Republican Party,” McSweeney said. “What we need to do is cut spending in this state. I think the Republican Party has hit rock bottom in Illinois when it supports Pat Quinn pork barrel spending. We need to be the party of Ronald Reagan. We need to be for real reform. This is outrageous.”

Is a rehash of a Quinn-driven idea the best Illinois can muster in 2017?

And when Republicans, or anyone for that matter, recommend more capital projects and higher spending as a solution to Illinois’ fiscal mess, they are not clear on the problem.

Lawmakers return to Springfield Wednesday to embark on a special session that will have widespread ramifications for all Illinoisans. It would be nice if members of the party of Reagan returned with their core principles intact.

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