Chris Kennedy

By John Ruberry

Almost a year ago here at Da Tech Guy I wrote this about Chris Kennedy entering the race for the Democratic nomination for Illinois governor.

He’s not a people person. I can’t remember who said it, but a wiser scribe than me said something along these lines about Hillary Clinton, “Some chefs can’t cook in front of an audience. And Hillary can’t do politics in front of people.”

And that’s Kennedy too.

Chris, a son of Robert F. Kennedy, has lived on Chicago’s North Shore for many years, for much of that time he ran Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, which his family used to own.

Kennedy still can’t cook in front of an audience.

Last year entered the fray of Democratic politics after years of begging from prominent pols.

As I noted in my that Kennedy post, a disastrous elevator interview at a 2016 Democratic National Convention event when he as still weighing his gubernatorial run betrayed Kennedy as a hothead. He is one. A trusted reader of my own blog told me that many years ago he witnessed Kennedy throw a drink in the face of a woman at a chamber of commerce event.

Kennedy’s campaign hasn’t caught fire, unless you include his self-immolation in recent weeks. JB Pritzker, who is part of another Democratic political family that so far hasn’t produced an electoral office holder, has sucked most of the oxygen in the room. He’s gathered most of the endorsements from Democratic politicians and from labor unions. By all accounts he is the frontrunner in the race. While the Pritzker name isn’t as politically magical as the Kennedy name, JB is worth over $3 billion and he’s self-funding his campaign. Chris Kennedy is wealthy enough to live in a huge mansion in one of Illinois’ wealthiest communities, but he is only a meager millionaire who can’t afford the Pritzker approach to campaign finance.

Illinois’ gubernatorial primary will take place on March 20.

Let’s look at Kennedy’s recent stumbles.

Early this month Kennedy accused Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, of purposely driving blacks out of the city to expedite gentrification.

Jeanne Ives, the conservative legislator who is challenging incumbent Bruce Rauner in the Republican Primary, said that “fathers in the home” is the solution to gun violence in Chicago. A bit simplistic? Perhaps. But single-parent homes–which almost always means that there is no father there–by all accounts is a root cause of inner city violence.

Disclosure: I am supporting Ives over Rauner.

Kennedy’s response was, “Well, I wish I could agree with you. I didn’t have a father in my life. Somebody shot him.” RFK’s death of course was a tragedy but his assassination was not a symptom of inner city violence.

Kennedy then stormed out of the forum.

Rauner is ignoring Ives’ challenge and has been running TV ads across the state and online playing excerpts of FBI wiretaps of Pritzker speaking with then-Governor Rod Blagojevich over a possible appointment to be Illinois treasurer, which have been effective.

Kennedy’s response when asked the Rauner attack ads was odd, for a Democrat:

I think Bruce Rauner is trying to do what he thinks is best for the state of Illinois. And we may disagree on what that is, but his willingness to speak truth to power, to take on the powers that have been strangling our economy for decades in this state is something that I think he should be applauded for.

Rauner has been consistently defeated in his attacks on “the powers,” which are centered upon longtime Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party.

Democrats of course pounced on Kennedy’s pro-Rauner comments.

Last week at a televised candidate forum moderator Carol Marin asked participants to say something nice about an opponent, just as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were invited to do at one of their debates.

Pritzker lauded Kennedy’s charitable work with Special Olympics. Kennedy couldn’t return the favor, calling Pritzker “the poster child of all that’s wrong with the corrupt system in our state – it’s difficult for me to heap praise on him.”

Realizing his mistake, after the forum Kennedy cited Pritzer’s efforts for children’s charities.

It’s gotten so bad for Kennedy that the little-known Daniel Biss, a leftist state senator who represents a district near my home, is seen by some as the best-positioned challenger to Pritzker. In his latest ad, Biss attacks Rauner, Trump, Prtizker, and Kennedy.

Last year Pritzker was caught scamming the complicated and esoteric property tax system in Cook County, where Chicago is. Kennedy blew the whistle on Pritzker, but forgot his own shady history on tax appeals.

So goes the attempt to plant a seed of the Kennedy dynasty in Illinois.

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

Illinois bicentennial flag on the bottom

By John Ruberry

Illinois will have one of the most-closely watched gubernatorial contests this year. Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner has been a tremendous disappointment to me and just about every conservative voter I know. I enthusiastically backed the then-political newcomer in 2014, but this time around, as I explained here at Da Tech Guy, I’m supporting Rauner’s Republican challenger, state representative Jeanne Ives in the March primary election.

Ives is attacking Rauner, and to be fair, the Dems are too. Rauner has much to answer for. Actually he has little to answer for–as Rauner has not accomplished much of anything. For her part Ives is promoting common sense reforms that only public-sector union bosses and their enablers oppose, such as amending the state constitution so pension benefits can be changed, that is, so payment increases can be lowered, and having new state employees enroll in 401(k) plans.

Meanwhile Democrats are battling scapegoats, used here in the classical sense, that is, using something else to accept the sins of a people.

Deals with the Democrats’ state worker wing, the public-sector unions, that some Republican governors signed off on–but not Rauner–have burdened the Prairie State with $250 billion in pension debt. Retiring at 50 with full benefits is nice–except for chumps like me who have to pay for it. Illinois’ current budget is $36 billion and a whopping one-quarter of it goes to government worker pension payments. Illinois has suffered from the worst credit rating among the states for years, currently that rating is just one level above junk.

Illinoisans are responding sensibly and predictably–for four straight years Illinois has had negative population growth.

There is little to celebrate during Illinois’ bicentennial year.

Two candidates on the Democratic side are getting most of the attention from the media and presumably it’s a race between them, as there is currently no polling data on gubernatorial race. Billionaire investor JB Pritzker, a scion of the family that own the Hyatt Hotel chain, has collected the lion’s share of endorsements from prominent Democrats and the party’s union allies. He the only Democratic candidate regularly running ads on radio, television, and on the internet. The other prominent contender is Chris Kennedy, the son of Robert F. Kennedy who used to run Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.

Neither have much to say about Illinois’ long-running fiscal crisis and solutions for it, other than “taxing the rich.” But they don’t even talk much about that.

Pritzker on the left protesting Trump

Pritzker’s web advertisements are a daily presence on my Facebook and Pandora pages–in these Pritzker almost always attacks Donald Trump, as he does for instance in this YouTube ad. Trump has not visited Illinois since he was elected president.  Last year, in front of Chicago’s Trump Tower, Pritzker released his five-point plant to resist the president. And when the inevitable spring tornado tears through Illinois bringing death and destruction, who will Governor Pritzker call for help?

Since Trump has been monopolized as a scapegoat by Pritzker, Kennedy is left with smaller prey. One of his targets is a worthy one, at least for scorn. That one is Cook County Assessor Joseph Berrios, who is also the chairman of the Cook County Regular Democratic Organization, better known as the Chicago Machine.  Pritzker owns a mansion on Chicago’s Gold Coast. He purchased a smaller mansion that sits next to his. The billionaire didn’t maintain it–and then he successfully appealed his property tax assessment with Berrios’ office because the other mansion was “vacant and uninhabitable,” saving Pritzker a bundle of cash. Berrios has been under attack by the Chicago Tribune for his assessing practices, which the Chicago Tribune says favors the rich over the poor. Kennedy is calling for Berrios to resign as assessor, but the tiny yet powerful law firm where the longtime state House Speaker and state Democratic Party chairman, Michael Madigan, is a partner was hired to lower the property taxes of a company owned by Kennedy’s Merchandise Mart.

Oops.

Last week Kennedy moved  on to another unpopular target, Chicago’s embattled mayor, Rahm Emanuel.

“I believe that black people are being pushed out of Chicago intentionally by a strategy that involves disinvestment in communities being implemented by the city administration,” Kennedy said at a press conference held in a predominately African-American neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. “I believe Rahm Emanuel is the head of the city administration and therefore needs to be held responsible for those outcomes,” he added.

Phrased succinctly, Rahm, according to Kennedy, is driving blacks out of Chicago.

Oops again.

For a variety of reasons, including most notably high crime and execrable unionized schools, in sheer numbers and by percentage, the black population of many large cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, and even Detroit has been falling, as I stated in my own blog when I reported on this story. Kennedy’s claim is tin-foil hat stuff.

Blogger at Chicago’s Trump Tower

And what does Trump and Emanuel have to do with Illinois’ pension debacle? Nothing with the former and a just a little bit in regards to the latter, since Rahm, a longtime prominent Illinois Democrat, was silent about the festering fiscal disease that is devouring ILL-inois. As for Berrios, I’ll place the party boss somewhere in the middle.

But the role of scapegoats, using the term in the modern sense, is to defer attention away from larger problems. And Kennedy and Pritzker don’t have solutions–or if they do they don’t care to share them with voters.

Boss Michael Madigan’s use of “Illinois math” to kick the pension problem down the road isn’t an option anymore. Illinois has reached the cliff.

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

Jeanne Ives

By John Ruberry

At my own blog and here at Da Tech Guy, I enthusiastically backed the candidacy of Bruce Rauner, the current Republican governor of Illinois.

Count me as an ex-supporter. I’ll be voting for state Rep. Jeanne Ives (R-Wheaton) in next spring’s primary.

Rauner was a political newcomer when he narrowly defeated unpopular incumbent governor Pat Quinn three years ago. He became the first gubernatorial candidate in the Land of Lincoln to win a majority of the vote–albeit a very small one–since Rod Blagojevich’s first victory in 2002.

Rauner’s campaign slogans were “Bring Back Illinois” and “Shake Up Springfield.” He hasn’t done either which is why, in its upcoming cover story, National Review is calling Rauner “the worst Republican governor in America.”

After Quinn’s own narrow win in 2010, he and House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), by far the most powerful politician in Illinois,  ramrodded through the General Assembly what was called a temporary income tax increase, which would expire shortly after the 2014 gubernatorial election. At that point, after Quinn’s presumed next win, the tax increase would be voted on again and made permanent.

But fed-up Prairie State voters, most of whom are corralled into gerrymandered legislative districts created by Madigan, who is also the chairman of the state Democratic Party, have no other way to fight back except at the top of the ticket every four years. They chose Rauner to stop the bleeding.

In his previous career Rauner was a venture capitalist. When he took over a company he could fire the CEO. He can’t do that with Madigan. So what followed was a game of chicken. Rauner, as part of his Turnaround Agenda, supported such common sense reforms as term limits for legislators, later changed to term limits for legislative leaders, which was clearly aimed at Madigan, who has been speaker of the House for an unprecedented 32 of the last 34 years. It’s Madigan who Reuters calls “the man behind the fiscal fiasco in Illinois.”

Other Turnaround Agenda items included tort and pension reform–Illinois has one of the worst-funded public pension systems in America–a ban on public sector unions contributing to state political campaigns, an option for local governments to enact right-to-work laws, as well as a two year property tax freeze.

Rauner said he was not averse to an income tax increase–but in exchange for his support of a tax hike he wanted his Agenda Turnaround agenda passed.

For thirty months the game of chicken continued, and that included an unprecedented two years without a budget. Illinois’ pile of unpaid bills tripled, reaching a level of over $16 billion. In the end Boss Madigan won. Overriding Rauner’s veto and some Republican legislative defections–who provided cover for Democrats in unsafe seats to vote “No,” Madigan’s 32 percent income tax hike became law.

Rauner and the GOP didn’t see a single part of the Turnaround Agenda included in that tax hike. Its passage was a colossal failure for the Republicans and long-suffering Illinois taxpayers.

And Rauner has been a colossal failure too. Yet he’s still running for reelection. In his video announcement Rauner dons a leather jacket and rides a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, which is ironic as southeastern Wisconsin, which is where Harley-Davidson is based, has been a direct beneficiary of Illinois’ decline.

The failures of Rauner don’t end with Madigan winning the tax increase war. Breaking a promise he made Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago, Rauner, who is pro-choice, signed into law a bill that keeps abortion legal in the state even if the US Supreme Court overturns the Roe vs. Wade decision. The bill also allows Medicaid funding of abortion as well as funding of abortions for state employees. And Rauner also signed into law a bill, weeks before California did, making Illinois a sanctuary state.

Ives, who is Rauner’s only declared Republican opponent, voted against both bills when they were up for vote in the House.

Last week the governor drove home the gist of his own failures when he said of Illinois, “I’m not in charge.” Who is? Madigan, because he has “rigged the system,” Rauner says. Is that true? Probably. But Rauner has had three years to unrig it. That’s why voters hired him.

What expectation do we have that Rauner can unrig it in a second term?

In her campaigns announcement Ives said that she wants to “realign public sector salaries and benefits to be commensurate with their private sector counterparts who finance it all.” Specifically she favors 401(k) plans for new state hires. Ives, a West Point graduate and a mother of five, also backs property tax reform and in an acknowledgement to one of President Trump’s campaign themes, vows to fight for the “forgotten people in Illinois” Of which there are plenty, including me.

In that campaign introduction Ives refers to the governor as “Benedict Rauner.” While I don’t view Rauner as purposely traitorous to the voters who supported him, he has been a spectacular disappointment as governor. I apologize to anybody who took my advice and voted for him.

Rauner says he is “not in charge” of Illinois yet he still wants four additional years of not being in charge. Who in their right mind can get behind that? Rauner says “it’s time to finish the job.” But he hasn’t even started it yet. Imagine Rauner as a homebuilder and three years after hiring him all that he has to show for his efforts is an unkempt pile of bricks paid for with money borrowed from you.

That’s Illinois, which leads the nation in negative net-migration. Its bond rating is the lowest ever for a state.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

“And it was inevitable that some of these people pushed back…”
Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles.

Overtaxed residents of Cook County, where Chicago is, are finally waking up. After decades of being slapped by tax after tax–folks are fighting back.

Last week the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted to repeal a hated penny-per-ounce sweetened beverage tax, one that until the repeal takes effect on December 1, places a 39 percent tax on a $4.88 12-pack of soda pop.

“The pop tax is dead, but the issue is bigger than the pop tax,” Cook County Commissioner John Fritchey (D-Chicago) told the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass last week. “The issue here is that the people of Chicago and Cook County are not used to having their voices heard and making a difference, with public outrage forcing an elected body to reverse course. This is something.”

Cook County Board President Toni “Taxwinkle” Preckwinkle (D-Chicago) last year had to issue a rare tie-breaking vote last year to enact the soda tax, which took effect two months ago. Last week commissioners voted 15-2 to kill it.

Over the years Cook County imposed with little pushback a 0.75 percent sales tax, along with tobacco, gasoline, and liquor taxes, as well as an additional one-percent sales tax. Okay, there was a rebellion with that last one. Taxwinkle defeated her unpopular predecessor in a Democratic primary on the promise to repeal it–and she followed through. Then five years later she led the effort to successfully bring it back.

Chicagoans pay the nation’s highest sales tax rate.

Meanwhile Chicago residents have been pulverized by repeated property tax hikes to mainly pay for underfunded municipal worker pensions. Illinoisans just got socked with a 32 percent income tax increase, much of that money will go to pension obligations. And Taxwinkle has said that some of that soda tax money is needed for county worker pensions.

Taxwinkle dismissed criticism of the pop tax, which she ludicrously claimed was a public health measure, as the message of Big Soda. Yes, the American Beverage Association’s Can the Tax Coalition did pay for television, radio, and internet ads calling for a repeal. But Taxwkinkle enlisted the aid of “Nanny” Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former New York City mayor, to pay for pro-soda tax ads. And after the Illinois Retail Merchants Association delayed imposition of the soda tax, Taxwinkle quickly sued the group for $17 million in lost revenue, exposing her “it’s for our kids’ health” argument as a lie.

Toni “Taxwinkle” Preckwinkle

No figures are available, but anecdotal evidence is abundant that Cook County residents in droves have been driving to collar counties and Indiana to purchase pop since collection of the soda tax began. And does anyone think they were only buying soda on these grocery runs? And gee whiz, do you think they noticed that gasoline, and well, a whole lot of other things are cheaper outside Crook County?

Fill ‘er up. Oh, grab a case of beer too! Oh, and buy that stuff as long as we are here. And this stuff too!

Democratic office holders–and not just county ones–heard the sharp message from ordinary citizens: get rid of this tax!

The repeal of the sugary drink tax repeal is a big victory for long suffering Cook County residents such as myself. Cook is heavily Democratic. Hillary Clinton won nearly three-quarters of the vote in last year’s presidential election. Cook County hasn’t had a Republican president of the Cook County Board in nearly five decades, which is when the county’s population peaked.

Yet people in one of America’s bluest counties screamed “Enough” and they pushed back.

But this victory is only partial. The soon-to-be-canned soda tax is only a symptom. Voters need to understand why Taxwinkle needs to spend so much. Pensions for unionized retirees are only part of it. Taxwinkle has been building a massive “free” public-health care network that caters to the jobless and Cook’s burgeoning illegal immigrant community since taking office seven years ago.

Chicago is a sanctuary city and Cook is a sanctuary county. And last month our state’s Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, signed a bill making Illinois a sanctuary state.

These may be the type of governments that Illinois voters want. If it is, then so be it. But prepare to pay dearly for it too.

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

Graphic courtesy of the Illinois Policy Institute

By John Ruberry

On Thursday the Democratic-dominated Illinois House, with aid of ten Republicans, overrode Governor Bruce Rauner’s veto of a 32 percent income tax hike. The corporate rate jumped by 35 percent.

Apologists for the income tax increase love to point out that many states have higher income tax rates, but last week’s override places Illinois within the top 20 of the 50 states. And these tax lovers always leave out some painful facts. For instance, while sales tax rates vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, Illinois’ sales tax rates are very high across the board. Chicagoans, at 10.25 percent, pay America’s highest sales taxes. And depending on who you talk to, Illinoisans suffer under America’s largest property tax burden–or they are near the top. Chicagoans deal also suffer with nuisance taxes such as a seven-cents-per-bag tax at grocery stores, and had a judge not temporarily struck down a Cook County–where Chicago is–a penny-per-ounce sugary drink tax would be in place right now. Food stamp recipients don’t have to pay those last two. And those nuisance taxes add up, of course.

As a lifetime resident of Illinois, I can assure you that the services we receive from the state are terrible. Last year the Chicago Tribune phrased it more eloquently, “As a result, Illinois government is a massive retirement system that, during work hours, also offers some services.”

Illinois’ personal income tax rate is now at 4.95 percent and the corporate rate is now 7 percent, but because of a local only-in-Illinois 2.5 percent state personal property replacement tax, the corporate rate is really 9.5 percent, which makes the overall rate the fourth-highest in the nation.

And before these tax hikes Illinois was one of the few states losing population.

So ends the Prairie State’s national record two-year span of operating without a budget.

“Shake Up Springfield, Bring Back Illinois”

Governor Rauner, a Republican, was elected by voters to, as his campaign slogan vowed, “Shake Up Springfield.” While never averse to a tax increase, Rauner, who never held public office before, said he’d approve one as long as it included such items as term limits, redistricting reform, workers’ compensation law changes, and property tax freezes. House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who has held his job for 32 of the last 34 years, of course views term limits as anathema to him, and this master gerrymanderer created legislative maps that gave the Democrats supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly in the first two years of Rauner’s term. The Dems still have a veto-proof majority in the Senate.

One of the reasons the Republican General Assembly members who sided with Madigan gave for their votes was that Moody’s and S&P warned that if Illinois didn’t have a budget in place for fiscal year 2018 its bonds would be rated as junk. Guess what? Moody’s says it might downgrade Illinois’ bonds anyway. The new taxes don’t address how Illinois will tackle its $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. Pension payments already consume a whopping one-quarter of the Illinois budget. And even assuming enough funds are there for Illinois schools to open in the fall, more legislation is needed for allocating that cash. The state has over $15 billion in unpaid bills-which is over 40 percent of the ’18 budget. That backlog will take years to pay off. Adding to the debacle is a late June ruling by a federal judge for Illinois to pay $586 million per month to bring down its past-due Medicaid bills. Which means that other vendors will have to wait even longer to get paid. How many of them will go out of business waiting for their bills to be settled?

Didn’t I mention that Illinois is losing population?

Blogger at the border

At best, the Illinois budget deal is a band-aid for much more serious problems.

Rauner is a candidate for reelection in 2018. That task was made more difficult by the manner that the tax hike was passed. In the first go-round 15 Republicans–the Madigan 15–voted for the tax hike. That allowed Boss Madigan, who has been chairman of the state Democratic Party since 1998, to allow, yes, allow 11 Democrats in vulnerable districts to vote “No.” In the override vote, four of the Madigan 15 voted “No.” Another one missed the roll call. Of course Madigan “found” the other five votes among his caucus.

Democratic candidates for governor are of course calling the tax increase “bi-partisan.”

But already one Madigan 15 member has announced he’s not running for reelection.

In my opinion bankruptcy, even though it will be called something else, is still coming to Illinois, despite this budget “fix.”

John Ruberry 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.

Illinois Policy Institute caricature of Michael Madigan

By John Ruberry

“I can’t stop the revolution, but until it comes, let’s have some fun.” Prince Felix Yusupov to Rasputin in the film Nicholas and Alexandra.

And with the revolution of course came the collapse of Czarist Russia.

The beleaguered state of Illinois set a couple of futility records last week. It became the first state since at least the Great Depression to go two straight years without passing a budget. In response, Standard & Poors and Moody’s dropped Illinois’ bond rating to one level above junk–the lowest ever recorded for a state. And both agencies alluded that a junk rating may be coming very soon.

The 2017 Illinois General Assembly session ended on Wednesday. It can still pass a budget, but it will require a three-fifths majority to do so. To be fair, the state Senate, which has a supermajority of Democrats, did pass a budget that included a huge income tax release–with no Republican votes. But the real legislative power in Illinois lies with House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), who has held that job for an unprecedented 32 of the last 34 years. Madigan is also the chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party–and if you are a Democrat in office in the Prairie State you almost certainly owe multiple favors to Madigan, who is also a prodigious fundraiser and jobs provider, and of course those jobs include seats on the General Assembly and the state attorney general’s office, which his daughter holds. Madigan, an adept gerrymanderer, draws Illinois’ legislative districts, which is why Democrats have that supermajority in the state Senate and until this year had one in the House.

Nothing gets passed, heck, nothing even gets onto the floor of the Illinois House of Representatives without Madigan’s approval. And if a bill can’t make it out of the House it can’t move on to the Senate, let alone to the governor’s desk.

Illinois’ governor is Bruce Rauner, a Republican who is a first-time public office holder. Rauner is willing to sign a budget bill that includes an income tax increase, but only as part of a grand bargain that also contains reforms such as term limits, a property tax freeze, workers compensation law changes, and tort laws that are more business-friendly. Is Rauner completely blameless? Of course not. Perhaps he should bolster his negotiating chops or remove an item or two from his Bring Back Illinois agenda. But Rauner, who three years ago became the first Illinois governor to win a majority of the vote since 2002, was dispatched to Springfield to battle the status quo of failure.

Madigan of course has the votes to pass a budget in the House. But he is only interested in maintaining his speakership and of course his power–even though Illinois is circling the drain. It currently has over $14 billion in unpaid bills and at least $130 billion in unfunded pension obligations. The Boss doesn’t want his minions in the House to face voters next year after voting for a tax increase. Madigan would rather rule a collapsing Illinois than share power in a prosperous one, which is the same governing philosophy Russia’s last Czar used.

That’s not to say that the General Assembly hasn’t accomplished anything this year. It passed a $15 minimum wage bill that is seen as a jobs killer by businesses. Why do I say that? Because Cook County, where I live, recently passed a $13 minimum wage bill that suburb after suburb–and it’s important to note that suburban Cook is heavily Democratic–is opting out of because of fierce opposition from small business owners. Rauner is expected to the veto minimum wage bill. The GA also passed a bill allowing for an elected Chicago school board. While I normally support more direct democracy, an elected Chicago board of education will quickly, if not immediately, become beholden to the well-organized and hyper-leftist Chicago Teachers Union, which refuses to compromise on issues such as having teachers pay more into their woefully underfunded pension funds. And the General Assembly passed legislation that will make it easier for Illinoisans to change their birth certificate gender if they have not undergone gender re-assignment surgery.

Meanwhile the 800-pound gorilla in the room–Illinois’ dire financial situation–is growing bigger and becoming more malodorous every day.

Illinois has become 1916 Russia. The collapse is coming. Perhaps it has arrived.

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

IDOT facility, Northfield, IL

By John Ruberry

You’ve heard of “Deep State,” right? If you haven’t, it’s the powerful yet anonymous cadre of senior bureaucrats within the federal government who are toiling to undermine President Donald J. Trump. They are “the swamp” Trump wants to drain.

In Illinois, where I live, we have Deep Corruption.

Last week in my own blog I reported on Deep Corruption when former Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett received a 4 ½ year prison sentence for wire fraud for her role in a bribery scheme with a former employer, a contractor. Her old boss there likely engineered her hiring as the boss of CPS.

In 2014 as Illinois’ financial situation was clearly dire–it has gotten worse since then–a political hiring scandal broke at the Illinois Department of Transportation. Over 200 unqualified people were hired as “staff assistants.” The title sounds innocent enough, but staff assistants in Illinois government are supposed to be policy-making posts, which makes those positions exempt from anti-patronage rules. Most of these so-called policy makers were hired during the six-year term of so-called reformer Pat Quinn, then the Democratic governor of Illinois. But candidates with backgrounds such as managing an ice cream store, laying bricks, and working for the Democratic Party were hired as staff assistants at IDOT. Well, these hires were diverse that’s for sure. Once on the state payroll, naturally these unqualified employees were given duties that matched their modest skill set. Many of them now hold new titles and are exempt from being discharged–except for extreme indiscretions–because of union rules.

Meanwhile, Illinois has the worst credit rating and the worst-funded public pension system of the fifty states. It currently has $11 billion in unpaid bills.

But under Quinn money was available to place political cronies on the state payroll.

Last week a court-ordered monitor issued her report on the political hiring scandal, or what should be called the Hack Pol Job Fair. The unqualified candidates of course had one thing in common: connections, often family ties, to a Democratic politician.

Rauner: Shake Up Springfield, Bring Back Illinois

Fed up Illinois voters threw Quinn, out of office in 2014, replacing him with Republican Bruce Rauner, who eliminated the staff assistant job classification but has been largely stymied in his attempt to “Bring Back Illinois” and “Shake Up Springfield” by state House Speaker Michael Madigan, who is also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party.

Seven staff assistants with Madigan ties were hired by IDOT.

Chicago talk radio host and onetime gubernatorial candidate Dan Proft likes to say “Illinois isn’t broken–it’s fixed.” True, very true.

Quinn’s office was the clearing house for the IDOT job scandal and this episode should finally destroy his undeserved reputation as a reformer. In 1996 a prominent Illinois Democratic politician accused Quinn of being a ghost payroller for the Dan Walker administration. You probably never heard of Walker, but he’s one of those Illinois governors who later served time in federal prison. Public pensioner Quinn now says he’s working on ending gerrymandering in Illinois, yet he approved the current disgraceful gerrymandered map that created supermajorities for the Democrats in the General Assembly.

Who was that politician who called Quinn a ghost-payroller? It was US Sen. Dick Durbin. And the senior senator from Illinois’ office tried to get “Candidate 5” a job “with various state agencies.” And after pressure from Durbin’s office, “Staff Assistant 47” was hired at IDOT.

There is some good news in regards to this scandal, besides its exposure. Honest Illinois state employees alerted authorities of these abuses.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

And those were illegal abuses, I’d like to add. Who will be indicted for these crimes?

On personal note, my mother passed away three weeks ago. As is natural for someone going through a parental loss, my thoughts have veered to the past of late. Years ago my mother told me about a conversation she had with my father–he’s gone now too. My dad declared to my mom that his goal was to enter politics, which of course meant Illinois politics as they lived in Chicago. “That will never work out,” she explained to him. “You’re honest.”

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Chicago’s South Side

By John Ruberry

I’ve been saying that Chicago will be the next Detroit for years, and on Thursday, syndicated talk radio show host–and former Tea Party congressman–Joe Walsh, was making the same prediction on his program.

Walsh was discussing a just-released pension study which the Chicago Sun-Times reported on.

Standard & Poor’s surveyed pension obligations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, San Antonio, Phoenix, Jacksonville, Dallas, Houston, Columbus, Indianapolis and Austin.

Chicago performed the worst across the board — registering the highest annual debt, pension post-employment benefits costs as a percentage of governmental expenditures and the highest debt and pension liability per capita.

And there is more:

The report noted that the “median weighted pension funded ratio of 70 percent” for the 15 cities “underlies a wide range of positions with Chicago only 23 percent funded across all plans and Indianapolis the most well-funded at 98 percent.”

Chicago’s pension burden is $12,400 per person–more than double that of New York City and it has the lowest bond rating of those 15 surveyed cities. The S&P report says that in 2015 Chicago “only made 52 percent of its annual legally required pension contribution.”

If you are looking for more bad news you came to the right place. More than five times as many people live in New York and Los Angeles combined–but there were more murders in Chicago last year than the total in both of those cities. As for Chicago’s population, it’s at a 100-year-low. Leading the exodus are middle class blacks.

CPS school on the West Side that closed in 2013

Chicago’s jobs program for people with education degrees, better known as Chicago Public Schools, has been cited by other middle class ex-Chicagoans, including your humble blogger, for decades as the main reason they abandoned the city. CPS bonds are rated as junk. Lack of money may lead to the last thirteen days of the school year being cancelled–and the CTU may add a fourteenth with a one-day strike in May to protest that early shutdown. Yep, I don’t get it either.

CPS officials have been battling the union for years to force teachers to pay more into their own pension funds. Yeah, they can afford it–of teachers in the largest school districts, CPS teachers rank in the top three in pay. But hey, the union members probably are thinking, “Why should we pay more when we have so many taxpayers who can foot the bill?”

But that’s the mindset that got Chicago into its mess. Oh that, and public-sector unions contributing heavily into the campaign funds of Democratic politicians.

Critics of my Chicago-is-the-next-Detroit hypothesis point out that large corporations have been moving their corporate headquarters into Chicago of late, the most prominent examples are ConAgra relocating its HQ from Omaha to Chicago and McDonald’s, which will move back to the city after four decades in suburbia. But no one can say how many of these corporate big shots will live in Chicago.

Two years ago Chicagoans were slugged with the largest property tax increase in the city’s history to pay for, yes, unfunded pension liabilities. Last year Chicago water and sewer taxes were hiked. Remember what what I wrote earlier, Chicago’s pensions are only 23-percent funded. Does anyone think that there aren’t additional massive tax increases in Chicago’s future? And when the producing segment of Chicago is even more depleted–chased out, that is–how will Chicago pay for street repair, schools, and snow removal–as well as adequate police and fire protection?

The Illinois Supreme Court recently ruled that public-worker pensions cannot be reduced.

Blogger in downtown Chicago

Here’s what I base my Chicago dystopia projection on. Defenders of the status quo place blind faith into their hope that Chicago can somehow hang on until enough pensioners die, which probably won’t be until the middle of the century. They offer no credible solutions. Nothing. They’re as delusional as Gerald O’Hara meticulously counting out his Confederate bonds in Gone With The Wind–“All we have left”–after General Robert E. Lee surrendered.

There’s a way out–changing state law so municipalities and government agencies can declare bankruptcy, which is something Bruce Rauner, Illinois’ reform governor, favors. But the Democrats and the public-sector unions will never agree to that.

John Ruberry, who moved from Chicago to the suburbs in 1999, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

By John Ruberry

The Democratic gubernatorial primary in Illinois is more than a year away but the field of candidates to challenge Republican incumbent Bruce Rauner is taking shape. On Thursday Christopher G. Kennedy, a son of Robert F. Kennedy, announced on YouTube that he’ll be running for the Democratic nomination for governor of America’s fifth-most populous state, after several abandoned flirtations with running for public office.

Kennedy is by no means a carpet-bagger, he’s lived in the Chicago area for three decades; he moved to Illinois to work at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart, which was once the jewel in the crown of the Kennedy family empire. The Mart was sold in 1998, but Kennedy still was the president of Merchandise Mart Properties from 2000-2012. He also served as chairman of the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau and the University of Illinois Board of Trustees; in the latter post Kennedy famously and correctly prevented Barack Obama’s terrorist pal, Bill Ayers, from receiving emeritus professor status after retiring from the University of Illinois at Chicago. A book by Ayers’ Weather Underground group was dedicated to a slew of creeps they described as political prisoners, including Sirhan Sirhan, the assassin of RFK.

As for the YouTube announcement, such a move on the surface appears to establish Kennedy’s credentials as a 21st-century candidate, but that tactic betrays his biggest flaw as a politician. He’s not a people person. I can’t remember who said it, but a wiser scribe than me said something along these lines about Hillary Clinton, “Some chefs can’t cook in front of an audience. And Hillary can’t do politics in front of people.”

And that’s Kennedy too.

Mark Brown of the Chicago Sun-Times alone of mainstream media mouthpieces noted the significance of the YouTube announcement. Kennedy prefers the safer climes of one-on-one and telephone interviews. And controlled environments such as YouTube.

At a gathering of Illinois delegates during the Democratic National Convention last year Kennedy gave a speech, after meeting with Illinois House speaker and Democratic boss Michael Madigan of Chicago, where he strongly criticized Rauner. The Republican reformer’s “turnaround agenda,” which includes such needed items as term limits, a ban on gerrymandering, and tort reform, has been blocked by Madigan, who until last month, enjoyed supermajorities in both chambers of the General Assembly.

After their DNC meeting, Madigan said that Kennedy would make “a very good candidate” for governor.

In his speech, Kennedy bemoaned the changing media landscape. “With the decline of daily newspapers and other media,” he said, “there is [sic] simply fewer reporters than there used to be to tell the rest of us the truth.”

As you’ll see here, a deer-in-the headlights Kennedy refused to answer questions from some of those remaining reporters, including a basic one from Fox 32 Chicago’s Mike Flannery, “Are you running for governor or not?”

Kennedy’s reply to that reporter? “Please, I don’t need to address you,” concluding with, “What have you become?” All he had to say was that he was still considering his options for the future.

Illinoisans–meet your snowflake candidate for governor, Generation X-er Chris Kennedy.

Since last week’s announcement Kennedy has been asked about Madigan–and in his replies he has either dodged the queries or countered with criticisms of Rauner, who three years ago became the first candidate for governor to win a majority of the vote since 2002.

Madigan is a one-man advertisement for term limits. He’s been a member of the General Assembly for 46 years and he’s been speaker of the state House since 1983, except for the two years in the 1990s when the Illinois Republican Party rode Newt Gingrich’s Contract with America campaign into power. Later this year Madigan will become the longest-serving state House speaker in American history. He’s also chairman of the Illinois Democratic Party. Members of the House or the state Senate who cross Madigan will find that campaign funding from the party will evaporate and they’ll be removed from meaningful committee assignments. If those rebels somehow survive, their political careers will be gerrymandered out of existence. Yes, Madigan controls redistricting.

And now for the exclamation point: Madigan’s daughter has been Illinois’ attorney general since 2003.

Illinois Policy Institute caricature of Madigan

Let’s put things another way. Imagine Illinois as a hockey game–with Mike Madigan as the puck and the goaltender on both ends of the rink. And in Madigan’s Illinois, which is not a fantasy version of the state, the players don’t move the puck around, the puck moves the players around. Watching the matchup is a declining base of fans–Illinois is one of the few states that is losing residents. With Madigan–the most powerful politician in Illinois even when there is a Democratic governor–in charge of the state, Illinois has the worst-funded public-public pension system and the lowest credit rating of the fifty states. And it has accumulated $11 billion in unpaid bills, despite the state constitutional requirements that all Illinois budgets be balanced.

But as Kennedy likes to remind people, Illinois hasn’t had a budget passed in two years–which he blames solely on Rauner—Kennedy just can’t find a way to criticize Madigan or even comment on him. In one of those telephone interviews, this one was a Quad Cities NPR affiliate, when he was asked about Madigan, Kennedy replied, “I have a good relationship with much of the leadership in the state–and I think it’s important to be able to work with others.”

Blogger outside of the Merchandise Mart a few years ago.

Snowflake Kennedy offers no solid answers as to how he’ll balance Illinois’ budget, fix the pension bomb, or stem the state’s population exodus.

But he’s a Kennedy. And he thinks it’s important to be able work with others.

Why is Chris Kennedy running for governor?

John Ruberry, a fifth-generation Illinoisan, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit. Both of his parents voted for John F. Kennedy for president in 1960.