Reward and reprimand for Illinois' elected officials


The incentive to dig in one’s heels to appease or energize their respective bases is sadly more appealing for our state’s legislature and governor than productively governing. If only there were a worthwhile reward for working together, and a swift statutory purge of obstructionism.

During a July 2011 interview with CNBC in the midst of a federal budget standoff, Warren Buffett proposed a reprimand should Congress not pass an adequate budget.

"I could end the deficit in five minutes. You just pass a law that says that any time there's a deficit of more than three percent of GDP, all sitting members of Congress are ineligible for re-election. Yeah, yeah, now you've got the incentives in the right place, right?”

Mr. Buffett's idea has resonated since I first heard it, and even more so now as a small business owner. As a CPA for small business clients and individuals, I am not under the illusion that I am the only person who can effectively provide them with tax and accounting services. Similarly, no elected official should be of the illusion that he or she alone possesses the ability to execute the office to which they were elected.

Illinois General Assembly...take note!
In the spirit of Mr. Buffett's original idea, I implore the Illinois General Assembly to initiate an amendment to Article VIII, Section 2 of the Illinois Constitution, requiring the General Assembly and Governor to pass and sign into law a balanced budget, covering no less than 12 months, no later than 11:59 pm on the day before the existing budget expires. By doing so, the General Assembly and Governor will remain eligible for re-election in the subsequent election cycle. Should the deadline not be met, for any reason whatsoever, the General Assembly and Governor will collectively be ineligible for re-election in the subsequent cycle.

Voters...take note!
For everyone in Illinois impacted by the lack of a budget perpetuated by partisan gridlock, imagine our elected officials being motivated like never before to pass a budget every year by a deadline on which every town, city, county, school board, police department, and resident can rely.  

Should a legislator or governor believe they are faced with choosing compromise or conscience, they should decide knowing that if the deadline for a balanced budget is not met because of their vote or veto, themselves and every member of both parties will take a seat for at least one cycle. After all, the commitment to your values is only as strong as the consequences you are willing to face.

Teamwork required
Our state’s legislators and governor are a team. Their primary function is to work together in the interest of the residents of Illinois. If they cannot or will not work together, it is simply time to pick a new team. While some good teammates/lawmakers might be unable to run for re-election, if they are that good, they’ll have a strong and defensible record on which they can stand should they seek to reclaim their seat.

Term limits are not the answer. Should our state be fortunate enough to have a General Assembly and Governor that are working together, let them continue to produce, at least until they insist upon no longer collaborating, and then we clear the roster and start anew.

Many elected officials have long been motivated by self-preservation. It’s time for constituents and municipalities to finally benefit from the desire for self-preservation that burns within many who represent us. It is time for those we’ve elected to give themselves the ultimatum to work together and produce at least once a year, or take a break – if only for a term.


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