"Gotcha" Government

dollar-499481_1280.jpgImagine you’re at the shopping mall on a Saturday afternoon. You fought through the crowds, eventually found a few nice things to buy, and you’re headed back to your car. As you approach, you see something under your windshield wiper.

Maybe another pizza coupon? An ad for driveway sealing? No, it’s a $50 city ticket! You’re a law-abiding citizen, but you missed the deadline to renew your license plates, because the state government didn’t mail you a renewal notice. Since Springfield pols can’t balance the budget, you’re out another fifty bucks.

This isn’t a fairy tale. The Village of Schaumburg recently decided to take advantage of the lack of renewal notices to make extra money off folks shopping at Woodfield Mall. Schaumburg staff attacked the parking lots of that private shopping mall, ticketing cars with reckless abandon. And they made a ton of money doing it: monthly fines from tickets are up 25%, 50%, or more.

Not to pick on the good people of Schaumburg, but theirs is the same municipal government that put a red light camera at the main entrance to Woodfield Mall, even though there was no indication that the intersection was unsafe. They made millions, but boycotts of the mall ensued, eventually shaming village officials into removing the camera.

Why do we see so many examples of this kind of “gotcha!” government?

The news is full of stories about how government is breaking down across the state, from social services to universities to pension funds. Instead of tightening their belts to match programs to the funds available to pay for them, governments turn to increasingly outrageous cash grabs. Springfield doesn’t help matters: the majority party in the House and Senate won’t even consider a balanced budget, much less the sorts of reforms that could help school districts, municipalities, and other units of government lower their costs.

For instance, did you know that the state requires universities to use soybean-based ink in all their printing? That requirement alone adds millions to the cost of our children’s educations, but it doesn’t do a thing to help those kids get good-paying jobs or become better citizens. (However, it does keep the soybean lobby checks flowing to the politicians!)

I get a lot of special interests demanding that I vote to raise taxes. But recent studies have shown that, accounting for inflation and population growth, Illinoisans pay a lot more in taxes than we did 15 years ago. In other words, even though more money goes into the system today than it has before, we’re more broke than we’ve ever been.

More money isn’t the answer, but reform. We can have the government we want and need, but we have to focus on delivering effective services to taxpayers, not on propping up bureaucracies and special interests.