Guest Column: If the debt numbers don’t scare you, they should

By State Sen. Dave Syverson

When it comes to the debt facing America, the numbers should be alarming to every taxpayer and citizen. Today, the federal government’s debt stands at $14.5 trillion and growing. The interest on that debt is $430 billion a year, or $1.2 billion a day. In addition to that record amount of federal debt, Washington is spending $4 billion each a day more than the revenue coming in. That’s $167 million an hour more being spent than incoming revenues — a number that is unfathomable!

But the federal government isn’t the only government spending that’s out of control. According to a recent report by Treasurer Dan Rutherford, Illinois’ debt totals $200 billion. Local governments are also deep in the red, with Chicago and Cook County communities facing a $61 billion shortfall, and downstate communities billions more.

No matter what politicians, economics professors or some in mainstream media tell you, this kind of spending and borrowing is totally unsustainable.

Some in Washington want the debt ceiling raised enough so (in their words) we don’t have to “play politics” with budget issues until January of 2013. In other words, they want to put off the tough decisions until after the November 2012 elections. Governments at all levels have been putting off the hard choices long enough. We have two options — take some real short-term pain now, and cure ourselves of the fiscal crisis, or face a terminal fiscal situation in the future.

We hear from the president and some political leaders who say we can balance the budget painlessly by cutting “future” spending and raising taxes on “the wealthiest Americans.” While this makes for effective campaign rhetoric, it will not solve the budget crisis. The deficits facing us are so large that there simply aren’t enough “corporate jet millionaires” out there to cover the $4 billion a day (and growing) federal shortfall, let alone cover the deficit. In fact, if you took another $10 million from each corporate jet owner, that would cover less than two weeks of this year’s federal budget shortfall. So, regardless of what some claim, we cannot cut around the edges and tax our way out of a fiscal crisis this large.

Another very important point to remember — just because government raises taxes doesn’t mean it will use that revenue to pay bills or reduce the debt. On the contrary — when politicians raise taxes, the pressure to cut government spending decreases, often resulting in more programs and even larger deficits.

Take Illinois, for example. Earlier this year, state Democrat leaders told taxpayers they needed to raise our income taxes by 67 percent to pay off the $8 billion in short-term unpaid bills. Then, they promised that once those bills got paid off, the tax hike would be reduced.

Of course, as with so many political promises, that didn’t happen. While they went ahead and raised taxes by 67 percent, not one penny went toward paying off bills. Instead, the money went to cover increased spending, new pay raises and pension payments. The lesson in this is clear: raising taxes without first implementing responsible spending cuts will only make the problem worse.

Those generations that came before us sacrificed and paid a great price for what we have today. That’s why it is incumbent on us to leave a legacy of responsible government for those who come after us. The good news is it’s not too late. If we, as a country, are willing to do what’s fiscally responsible today, America’s future will be bright for generations to come.

State Sen. Dave Syverson (R) represents the 34th District.

From the Aug. 10-16, 2011, issue

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