Only bad options: The end of Illinois

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Only bad options: The end of Illinois

[cap­tion id=“attachment_97938” align=“alignleft” width=“183”] Blog­ger at the border[/caption]

By John Ruberry

Illi­nois isn’t at the cross­roads. It’s on a col­li­sion course after dri­ving off a cliff. It’s that bad here.

The Land of Lin­coln faces what is likely its most piv­otal two weeks in its 199-​year history.

Last week Gov­er­nor Bruce Rauner, a Repub­li­can who never ran for polit­i­cal office before, called for a spe­cial ses­sion to pass an annual bud­get, which is some­thing that the Illi­nois Gen­eral Assem­bly hasn’t done in over two years. And it’ll be tougher to do so now, as a super­ma­jor­ity will be required to pass a bud­get because the 2017 ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture ended on May 31. Get­ting a bud­get on the governor’s desk the­o­ret­i­cally should be easy, thanks to the ger­ry­man­der­ing skills of state House Speaker Michael Madi­gan (D-​Chicago), as there is a super­ma­jor­ity in the state Sen­ate and a near-​supermajority in the House. Madi­gan, who has held his job for 32 of the last 34 years and is also the chair­man of the state Demo­c­ra­tic Party, enjoyed a super­ma­jor­ity in the lower cham­ber for the first two years of Rauner’s term.

The Sen­ate passed a bud­get bill this spring, one that was way out of bal­ance, but Madigan’s House didn’t even con­sider it. And while Illi­nois’ con­sti­tu­tion has a bal­anced bud­get require­ment, none of its bud­gets have met that stan­dard since 2001.

So why no budget?

I view Madigan’s strat­egy as an early man­i­fes­ta­tion of the national Demo­c­ra­tic Party’s “Resist” strat­egy regard­ing Don­ald Trump, even though the polit­i­cal boss is a soul­less crea­ture who has no man­i­festo other than main­tain­ing power for him­self. And Madi­gan doesn’t want, at least yet, to have Democ­rats in the House vote “Yes” on a big tax hike. Yeah, they did so in a lame-​duck ses­sion in 2011, but there was a Demo­c­ra­tic gov­er­nor in Spring­field then to help shoul­der the blame.

Rauner offered an exten­sive “turn­around agenda” as a can­di­date and he demanded it be included in any tax hike bill once he took office. He’s scaled back on that agenda since then, but the rump of it is still anath­ema to Madi­gan and his cam­paign con­trib­u­tors. Rauner is ask­ing for pen­sion reform, edu­ca­tion fund­ing changes, more business-​friendly work­ers’ com­pen­sa­tion laws, and a five-​year prop­erty tax freeze.

So how bad is it in Illinois?

Here are some head­lines from just the past week:

That last one is the most omi­nous news as Illi­nois’ comp­trol­ler, Demo­c­rat Susanna Men­doza, is warn­ing that Illi­nois, because of court orders, will soon have to pay out more each month than it receives in rev­enue. “The magic tricks run out after a while,” says Men­doza, “and that’s where we’re at.”

Illi­nois has $15 bil­lion in unpaid bills, which is over 40 per­cent what the state col­lects in rev­enue annu­ally. It has over $100 bil­lion in unfunded pub­lic worker pen­sion oblig­a­tions. Its bonds have the low­est rat­ing of any state ever. It is one of only a few states, and the only one in the Mid­west, that is los­ing population.

Pretty hor­ri­ble. So much so that a “grand bar­gain” between Rauner and Madi­gan might end up being too lit­tle or too late to pre­vent the Land of Lin­coln from collapse.

The end of Illi­nois as we know it will arrive by the end of this month. If no deal is reached it’s hard to imag­ine the Prairie State not end­ing up in a quasi-​bankruptcy sit­u­a­tion, even though Con­gress will need to get involved first. An aus­ter­ity bud­get will likely has­ten the pop­u­la­tion exo­dus, as will a mas­sive tax hike with­out any reforms.

Another Illinois-​style tem­po­rary fix will only delay judge­ment day. And that judge­ment will only be harsher when it comes.

As Ben Affleck’s char­ac­ter in Argo phrased it, “There are only bad options, it’s about find­ing the best one.”

John Ruberry, a fifth-​generation Illi­nois res­i­dent, reg­u­larly blogs at Marathon Pun­dit.

Blogger at the border

By John Ruberry

Illinois isn’t at the crossroads. It’s on a collision course after driving off a cliff. It’s that bad here.

The Land of Lincoln faces what is likely its most pivotal two weeks in its 199-year history.

Last week Governor Bruce Rauner, a Republican who never ran for political office before, called for a special session to pass an annual budget, which is something that the Illinois General Assembly hasn’t done in over two years. And it’ll be tougher to do so now, as a supermajority will be required to pass a budget because the 2017 session of the legislature ended on May 31. Getting a budget on the governor’s desk theoretically should be easy, thanks to the gerrymandering skills of state House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), as there is a supermajority in the state Senate and a near-supermajority in the House. Madigan, who has held his job for 32 of the last 34 years and is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party, enjoyed a supermajority in the lower chamber for the first two years of Rauner’s term.

The Senate passed a budget bill this spring, one that was way out of balance, but Madigan’s House didn’t even consider it. And while Illinois’ constitution has a balanced budget requirement, none of its budgets have met that standard since 2001.

So why no budget?

I view Madigan’s strategy as an early manifestation of the national Democratic Party’s “Resist” strategy regarding Donald Trump, even though the political boss is a soulless creature who has no manifesto other than maintaining power for himself. And Madigan doesn’t want, at least yet, to have Democrats in the House vote “Yes” on a big tax hike. Yeah, they did so in a lame-duck session in 2011, but there was a Democratic governor in Springfield then to help shoulder the blame.

Rauner offered an extensive “turnaround agenda” as a candidate and he demanded it be included in any tax hike bill once he took office. He’s scaled back on that agenda since then, but the rump of it is still anathema to Madigan and his campaign contributors. Rauner is asking for pension reform, education funding changes, more business-friendly workers’ compensation laws, and a five-year property tax freeze.

So how bad is it in Illinois?

Here are some headlines from just the past week:

That last one is the most ominous news as Illinois’ comptroller, Democrat Susanna Mendoza, is warning that Illinois, because of court orders, will soon have to pay out more each month than it receives in revenue. “The magic tricks run out after a while,” says Mendoza, “and that’s where we’re at.”

Illinois has $15 billion in unpaid bills, which is over 40 percent what the state collects in revenue annually. It has over $100 billion in unfunded public worker pension obligations. Its bonds have the lowest rating of any state ever. It is one of only a few states, and the only one in the Midwest, that is losing population.

Pretty horrible. So much so that a “grand bargain” between Rauner and Madigan might end up being too little or too late to prevent the Land of Lincoln from collapse.

The end of Illinois as we know it will arrive by the end of this month. If no deal is reached it’s hard to imagine the Prairie State not ending up in a quasi-bankruptcy situation, even though Congress will need to get involved first. An austerity budget will likely hasten the population exodus, as will a massive tax hike without any reforms.

Another Illinois-style temporary fix will only delay judgement day. And that judgement will only be harsher when it comes.

As Ben Affleck’s character in Argo phrased it, “There are only bad options, it’s about finding the best one.”

John Ruberry, a fifth-generation Illinois resident, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.