A Publication of WTVP

Surely by now you’ve heard about the governor’s healthcare plan, his proposed gross receipts tax to pay for it and the potentially devastating consequences Illinois businesses could face if it were enacted. What has struck me most about the governor’s “crusade,” as he has referred to it, is the sanctimonious way in which he has tried to sell the plan. “A moral imperative,” “standing on the side of the angels”—give me a break. This sort of language insults our intelligence and should have no place in the debate.

The governor’s massive marketing campaign wraps itself in righteous language even as it pits us against each other in an act of classic demagoguery. Seeking to play David, he casts businesses in the role of Goliath in a galling act of stagecraft. His four-day bus tour around the state wasn’t a real discussion—it was a stage-managed farce and just as disingenuous as his fantasy that he’s keeping his pledge not to raise taxes.

All of this transparent moralizing has turned off many in his own party as well. It’s certainly telling that the lieutenant governor, treasurer and comptroller—all prominent Democrats— have spoken out against it. Even Jesse Jackson has lined up in opposition.

Certainly, expanded healthcare coverage is a laudable goal—we can all agree on that. But as Lt. Gov. Pat Quinn said, speaking in terms the governor might understand, “there’s more than one way to get to heaven.” And considering the conspicuously tepid support the governor’s plan has engendered so far, one would think the governor would reach out to his detractors. Yet he refuses to budge. He did not consult business leaders when crafting the plan; he chose to demonize them instead. And he shows no sign of scaling back such a breathtaking expansion of government or considering other means of paying for it.

If this state’s finances weren’t so dysfunctional, we could debate the budget plan on its own merits—that’s an argument we’d be willing to have. But our current financial situation is untenable, and to launch the biggest tax increase in state history before fixing our already formidable problems (Medicaid, pension underfunding and soaring electric rates, just to name a few) is terribly irresponsible. Not to mention, the governor’s plan does little to address the structural problems of soaring healthcare costs—it only throws more money at a broken system. He has ambition, to be sure, but ambition is not a solution.

This budget should be dead on arrival. It gambles with the livelihood of our economy and is rife with the potential for unintended negative consequences. In contrast to the rhetoric, its costs will be borne by all of us, not just “big, bad business.” At a time when businesses are already adversely impacted by the minimum wage increase and higher energy costs, it’s both unfair and unwise to add to that burden. And this is too important of an issue to be used as a political football.

Sadly, there’s been no leadership from Washington on the topic of healthcare, leading some states to take matters into their own hands. But a consensus is beginning to form across traditional party lines that something must be done at the federal level. In January, the presidents of the Business Roundtable, SEIU and AARP—not traditional allies—held a mutual press conference to offer political cover for a centrist, bipartisan fix for our broken healthcare system.

This kind of collaboration should be a model for how to proceed. No one believes it will be easy, but we must harness our American can-do spirit and press forward with an honest debate. There should be no seat at the table for demagogues, but there is one for business, even if the governor would like to pretend otherwise. IBI