High Drama, Low Comedy in Illinois Tax Follies

Barack Obama was wrong when he said that our problem is that we don't treat one another with enough respect. The problem is that we don't laugh enough at politics and politicians.

For example, in the midst of tragedy and pathos, we witnessed the weird spectacle of the president of the United States speaking before 20,000 people dressed, with North Korean-like similitude, in blue T-Shirts, cheering, whooping it up, and otherwise turning what should have been a sad occasion into a late-night monologue joke. The juxtaposition between solemnity and raucousness is the stuff of stand-up comedy -- despite the president's heartfelt sentiments and the unspeakable tragedy of lost lives and wounded souls.

The fact is, we treat these politicians and the whole process as if it were a religion. This breeds humorlessness among the citizenry, which leads to a decidedly unfunny political climate where we are forced to take goofballs like Joe Biden and Sarah Palin seriously. What passes for humor from both sides is the kind of ill-tempered, mean-spirited, pulling-the-wings-off-flies jocosity you grow out of when you hit puberty.

That's why before I go to bed at night, I hit my knees and thank God I live in Illinois.

You people who live in good government states like Minnesota and Vermont really don't know what you're missing. You might have the occasional stray dog who wanders off the straight and narrow, dipping their greedy paws into the public purse, or perhaps being a little too generous to their friends and political supporters. Politics, like any human endeavor, has more than its share of charlatans, grave robbers, and amoral amoebas who were born with a prison number tattooed across their forehead. No matter how squeaky clean you try and make your local governments, these types always seem to make an appearance now and again just to remind us all of the moral frailty of our species.

But really, how entertaining is that kind of government? Once you start taking politicians too seriously, they start taking themselves too seriously and then you're in trouble. A politician who takes himself too seriously actually believes they can solve the problems of the world by spending just a little bit more money that isn't theirs. They start to believe their own campaign rhetoric about how wonderful they are and before you know it, your state is up to its eyeballs in debt.

Illinois has the most fascinating, the most colorful, the most entertaining politicians in the land, which makes following the goings on in Springfield akin to watching a combination Demolition Derby and cockroach race. Of course, we still get politicians who spend the state into penury, but at least we're disabused of the notion that any high ideals or uplifting principles are at work. It is a rotten-to-the-core, cynical, sybaritic exercise in politics for fun and profit and it was on full display last week. A lame duck session of the Illinois legislature passed a gargantuan tax increase on individuals and businesses, while borrowing another $4 billion to seed the gold-plated retirements of unionized state workers.

It was done just minutes before the newly elected senators and representatives were to be sworn in, as high drama, low comedy, and strong-armed politics combined to bring more misery to Illinois' long-put-upon taxpayers.

The individual income tax rate soared from 3% to 5% -- a 67% increase, while the business tax rate climbed from 4.8% to a whopping 7%. This is supposed to raise $6.8 billion over the next year to help bring down an expected $15 billion deficit. A separate measure to allow the state to borrow another $8 billion to pay bills that were due in 2009 and early 2010 was defeated. In short, if you supplied the state with Christmas decorations in 2009, you will probably still be waiting for your check after Santa Claus is dead and buried.