By John Ruberry

Last Monday I had a errand to run for work–which brought me to Milwaukee’s suburbs. And for the first time in five years I drove on Interstate 94 north of the Illinois-Wisconsin state line–on what is known as the Milwaukee to Kenosha I-94 Corridor.

A lot has changed since 2012. As I left a toll road south of the border and entered a true freeway–okay, to be fair, the toll road has been there for decades–I noticed a lot.

Businesses–with huge facilities–that weren’t there five years ago leap out at you. Most obvious is the massive Uline warehouse in Pleasant Prairie. The headquarters office of the industrial supplier moved a few miles north from Waukegan, Illinois into Pleasant Prairie in Kenosha County in 2010. Its “Chicago warehouse” followed four years later.

In the 1980s Wisconsin’s tourism slogan was “Escape to Wisconsin.” Illinois businesses are now heeding the call.

Yes, the Chicago area has a couple of Amazon fulfilment centers, but farther north on my drive I saw a massive one in Kenosha–it opened in 2015. The Milwaukee Business Journal calls it “the largest in the recent Kenosha County industrial boom.” There is a “Hiring Now” sign out front.

Sears Holdings, an Illinois loser

South of Kenosha County is Lake County in ILL-inois. There is no Lake County industrial boom. There is no Illinois industrial boom.

Why is that? Sure, tax incentives from Wisconsin’s Republican governor, Scott Walker have helped greatly. Illinois, when inept Democrat Pat Quinn was governor, offered tax breaks to Sears Holdings, which operates the Sears and Kmart brands, and Mitsubishi Motors, to encourage them to stay. This was a few months after a huge income tax hike was enacted. What about attracting new business? By all accounts Sears and Kmart are on life-support and Mitsubishi closed its Bloomington plant in 2015.

Corporate taxes might be slightly higher in Wisconsin–no place is perfect. But Illinois has the nation’s highest median property tax rate. And Illinois’ expensive workers compensation laws frighten business owners.

In 2015 Wisconsin became a right-to-work state. All the states that border Illinois except for Missouri are right-to-work states and Show Me State voters will be asked next year if they want to join the trend. Nearby Michigan has been right-to-work since 2012. Job creators don’t like unions and based on recent workplace votes, neither do workers.

Illinois has its 800-pound odious gorilla in its basement, a woefully underfunded public-worker pension system. Wisconsin’s state pensions are by most accounts fully funded. Businesses don’t like uncertainty and Illinois’ pension bomb, despite a massive personal and corporate tax hike put in place this summer, has not been defused. Not even close. Ka-boom is coming.

Blogger in Pleasant Prairie

This summer Wisconsin and the Milwaukee to Kenosha I-94 Corridor snagged its biggest prize, the Foxconn factory. The Taiwanese manufacturer will hire anywhere from 3,000 to 13,000 employees for its facility in Mount Pleasant in Racine County. Yes, Illinois had also bid on the Foxconn plant.

Indiana is also enjoying great success poaching Illinois firms for the similar reasons.

And when the jobs leave the people leave. And Illinois is one of only three states with negative population growth.

John Ruberry regularly blogs from Illinois at Marathon Pundit.

Daniel Webster School, a CPS school on the West Side

By John Ruberry

On Friday a friend of this very blogger forwarded a Chicago Tribune Breaking News Alert to me: Chicago Public Schools enrollment drops by nearly 10,000 students. And the year before CPS enrollment slid by 11,000.

There are 371,382 students taking classes in CPS schools  In 2002 there 438,589 kids running the halls, with some of them learning something.

So, taxes for schools will go down, right?

Not in the Prairie State, the home of “Illinois Math,” where two plus two equals five.

For a while, that is.

CPS is expected to raise property taxes soon–a state bill that will likely pass to pass gives them that power–by $120 million to pay for, wait for it, teacher pensions. That’s on top of $100 million in a tax jump already sanctioned

“Building a New Chicago” at Dunne School on the South Side, where your blogger attended kindergarten

The sad tale of the Chicago Teachers Pensions Fund [CTPF] goes back to 1981 when the Chicago Board of Education agreed to pick up most of the teachers’ obligation to pay into their pension plans. Out of sight–out of mind. Yes, Chicago Teachers Union, I’m looking at you! In 1995 a lost weekend of retirement funding began–it lasted ten years–and all of that money that was supposed to go to pensions instead went towards teacher salaries and nuts-and-bolts school expenses. Oh, don’t forget to throw in a calorie-loaded Chicago-style pizza buffet line of cronyism, giveaways, and malfeasance into this toxic dish.

Illinois still hasn’t completely recovered from the Great Recession–government corruption and incompetence, in my opinion, are the sole reasons for that–so naturally a partial CTPF “pension holiday” was declared from 2011-13 and the can was kicked down the potholed road again.

Chicago Public Schools bonds are rated as junk.

Two years ago Chicago property owners had to swallow the largest property tax hike in the city’s history to help shore up police and firefighter pension funds, which are even more underfunded than the teachers’ pensions. And last week Chicago’s embattled mayor, Rahm Emanuel, released his 2018 budget proposal, which of course includes tax increases. When asked if more tax hikes were coming, Emanuel dodged the question.

Chicago is the only large American city with a shrinking population.

As bad as Chicago’s financial situation is, the reality is probably far worse because Illinois Math is very likely disguising the wretched truth.

Decline and fall.

Blogger in downtown Chicago

Here is some more Illinois Math for you: The free-market Illinois Policy Institute says, “There are now more inactive employees and beneficiaries in CTPF than there are active workers paying into the pension fund.”

Someday there will be a new Illinois Math equation. Two plus two won’t equal five–it will equal just one.

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.

Sign inside Niles, Illinois supermarket

By John Ruberry

I’ve written a couple of columns at Da Tech Guy, one here and one here, about Cook County’s hated one-cent-per-ounce soda tax championed by County Board President Toni “Taxwinkle” Preckwinkle, a left-wing Democrat. But the question I’ve been only alluding to here and on my own blog is this one: Why is this money needed?

And the soda pop tax is only the latest outrage. Like other counties, Cook levies property taxes, but it also mugs residents and anyone who buys something here with a 1.75 percent sales tax, along with gasoline, liquor and tobacco taxes.

(Those cheers you just heard come from retailers with shops on the other side of the Cook County line.)

Toni “Taxwinkle” Preckwinkle

County government in most places means the operation of a court system and a jail, providing law enforcement, particularly in unincorporated areas (Cook has few of those), and road maintenance. But in Cook County–Chicago is its seat–county government means building a massive health care network, the Cook County Health and Hospitals System, paid for by long-suffering taxpayers such as myself, and one that caters to the estimated 300,000 illegal immigrants living here.

Chicago is a sanctuary city and Cook is a sanctuary county.

A DNA Chicago article about plans for a new county health facility on Chicago’s Northwest Side that will replace a much smaller one, contains a revelation on where all of that tax money is going.

Once it’s running at full capacity, Carey [a county official] expects the site — one of 17 free clinics [emphasis mine] operated around the county — to host about 37,000 doctors’ visits annually, she said.

Keep in mind, this is just one clinic.

More…

The proposal has been brewing since at least 2015, when doctors told newly elected Cook County Commissioner Luis Arroyo Jr. that they had “outgrown” the Logan Square facility, Arroyo said.

Instead of expanding it, county health officials began looking for a new location, where more immediate neighbors could take advantage. They landed in Belmont Cragin, whose estimated 12,000 undocumented residents [emphasis mine again] has one of the largest clusters of uninsured people in the city, Arroyo said.

Leftism is expensive. Sure, some of what is spent on county health care for illegal aliens is reimbursed by another arm of government. Emergency visits at county-run Stroger Hospital come to mind as does the expensive state-funded All Kids program. Hey, they get me coming and going in Illinois, that’s for sure. But who pays for the salaries and generous benefits for the county doctors, nurses, dentists, and administrators? Not Kim Jong Un, that’s for sure.

Princely but underfunded county worker pensions are another reason “Taxwinkle” needs her taxes.

As a political blogger I natural follow current events. But I don’t recall the conversation about the need for Cook County to transform itself into a welfare state, particularly for illegals, as well as a retirement program for not-working-so-hard county employees. But that’s what county government has evolved into here.

And taxes and spending keep soaring, even though the population of Crook County, oops, I mean Cook County, peaked around 50 years ago, when the county last had a Republican running it and when none of these taxes existed.

Yes, leftism is very expensive.

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

By John Ruberry

Of America’s largest cities only Chicago has a declining population. So far this year–as it was for all 2016–more people were murdered in Chicago than in New York City and Los Angeles.

Combined.

On the surface it seems that Chicago has the best government that money can buy. The Watchdogs of the Chicago Sun-Times reports that one-third of municipal workers of America’s third-largest city banked over $100,000 last year. Meanwhile, just 11 percent of Cook County workers–Chicago is the county seat–earn more than $100K. The numbers are similar for state of Illinois employees.

Thirty-six Chicago payrollers collected more than Mayor Rahm Emanuel last year.

Overtime run amok partially explains the problem. Generous campaign contributions from public-sector unions to politicians explains much more of it.

The median income for Chicagoans according to the US Census Bureau in 2015–the most recent year that is available–$63,153.

In Chicago it’s great to be part of the ruling class. But Chicago’s roads are crumbling, barely one out of four of its students in its government schools read at grade level, its bond rating is the lowest among major cities, and businesses lack confidence in Chicago and Illinois as a whole. If you are part of Chicago’s ruling class you might view high taxes as a downpayment on your next paycheck or your retirement, but Chicagoans endure the nation’s highest sales tax rate and they were slugged with the highest property tax increase in the city’s history to fund public-worker pensions.

Blogger on Chicago’s Northwest Side

Yet Chicago’s public pensions are the worst-funded among America’s biggest cities--at a rate of just 25 percent of its obligations. But the cruel joke may be on these well-compensated public-servants. Despite the strong pension protection clause in the Illinois constitution, a pension “haircut” seems unavoidable for retirees. Michigan has similar wording it its constitution, yet Detroit municipal retirees saw their pension checks cut after the Motor City declared bankruptcy.

Chicago’s decline and fall continues. But hey, at least some people for now are making a good buck off of the rotting corpse. Let the good times roll.

John Ruberry 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.

By John Ruberry

As this post goes live, the 48th Chicago Pride Parade is taking place on the city’s North Side. The event is still commonly called the Gay Parade, “Pride” is of course a much more generic term. On the Yahoo home page today, next to the rainbow colors, is this message, “Be proud of who you are.”

In Chicago there are many people who should be ashamed of who they are and what they’ve done. Which got me thinking. America’s third largest city–for now–really needs a Shame Parade, something along the lines what Queen Cersei suffered, in the buff, in Game of Thrones two years ago at the hands of the Sparrows sect.

But please, shameful ones, keep your clothes on.

Participation is limited only to brigands who live in Chicago.

Attendees are encouraged to chant “Shame…shame….shame.”

Chicagoans, now let me present to you the 2017 Shame Parade participants!

Former Mayor Richard M. Daley: The son of Mayor Richard J. Daley, the younger Daley inherited his father’s talent in creating a powerful political organization. But while the first “Hizzoner” was a whiz at public finance, Number 2 was clueless about about it–clearly Richie is bad at math. Chicago has the worst-funded municipal worker pension plans in the nation. The city prospered in the 1990s, it’s easy to see why. The pension obligations were shorted to create an illusion of prosperity, a Potemkin Chicago.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel: The Tiny Dancer inherited a mess from Daley, and he’s responding as any liberal Democrat would to any problem–raise taxes. But Chicagoans are responding with their feet–Chicago is the only major city losing population. Most of the West Side and much of the South Side is a killing zone. More people are murdered in Chicago than New York City and Los Angeles–combined.

The leaders of every street gang: “Chicago is the gang capital of the United States,” CBS News reported a few years ago. There are roughly 600 gangs in Chicago and about 70,000 members in these criminal enterprises.

Shame…shame…shame.

Cook County Assessor and Cook County Democratic Party Boss Joseph Berrios: The assessor’s office has long been a campaign fund cash cow for the Chicago Machine. But in a fantastic series from the Chicago Tribune, Berrios’ reign has been shown to favor the wealthy residents of Cook County while cheating poor ones. Boss Berrios has also been accused of rampant nepotism. Do you mean the Democrats aren’t for “the little guy?”

Edward Vrdolyak: A onetime boss of the Cook County Democratic Party, “Fast Eddie” is one of the many former members of the Chicago City Council who is a convicted felon. Roughly once every 18 months a member or former member of that shameful legislative body takes up residence in a federal prison. Vrdolyak became a Republican in the late 1980s. Seven years ago he served a ten-month prison sentence for participating in a kickback scheme with cronies of disgraced governor Rod Blagojevich. Last fall Vrdolyak was indicted again on tax evasion charges.

Karen Lewis: The longtime president of the Chicago Teachers Union, a hardened leftist, was a pretty good high school chemistry teacher, a former co-worker who was one of her pupils told me once. But she’s not that good at math. Or perhaps she is? For years members of her union have had taxpayers, in the name of Chicago Public Schools, pay what is supposed to be the teachers’ contribution into their still woefully undercapitalized pension funds.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett: While the aforementioned Chicago Public Schools was headed into the financial sewer, its CEO, “BBB,” participated in a kickback scam. Byrd-Bennett will report to prison later this year.

Ayers and Dohrn’s Chicago home

Shame…shame…shame.

Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn: Barack Obama began his political career in the living room of these unrepentant Weather Underground terrorists. After their terror career ended they moved on to academia, where they learned that it’s easier to destroy America by indoctrinating youngsters with leftism than by bombing buildings.

Rod Blagojevich: Can President Donald Trump arrange a furlough for the onetime “Celebrity Apprentice” contestant? While Colorado is the jailbird’s home for now, the rest of his family still lives in Chicago. The hair-brained former governor inherited a fiscal mess, as did Rahm Emanuel, but he made it worse, particularly with his 2005 pension payment “holiday.”

Former Gov. Jim Thompson: Look! Another Republican! In 1989 Thompson signed into law the compounded interest pension raises which of course were never properly funded. An astute pol, yes, but like the younger Mayor Daley and perhaps Karen Lewis, math is not the strong suit of “Big Jim.”

Chicago’s Power Corruption Couple, former Chicago alderman Sandi Jackson and former US Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr: They’re undergoing a nasty divorce right now, but in happier times they looted Junior’s campaign fund. Both are ex-cons. The couple that steals together doesn’t necessarily stay together.

Lifetime Lack-of-Achievement Award, Jesse Jackson Sr: Decades of race-based shakedowns enriched himself and his family. Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH organization placed his son and daughter-in-law into positions of power. But what tangible achievements can he show other Chicagoans?

Who will the grand marshal of Chicago’s Shame Parade?

State House Speaker and Illinois Democratic Party Boss: Michael Madigan: Since becoming speaker in 1983, Madigan has nominally served with–or over?–six governors. But you can find the 13th Ward Democratic committeeman’s fingerprints on every piece of pension and fiscal legislation enacted into law since then. Illinois’ public pension plans are among the worst-funded among the 50 states. Illinois’ bond ratings are just one step above junk–the lowest ever for a state. And if a budget isn’t passed by the end of this week S&P and Moody’s warns that junk status will be declared.

Blogger in downtown Chicago

Shame.

Oh, why isn’t Barack Obama in the Shame Parade? Chicago is so bad even Obama has bailed on it. The former president lives in Washington now. Obama served in the Illinois Senate, from 1997-2004, while the state’s pension disaster festered. Obama is so smart, right? But why were there no warnings from him about Illinois pensions?

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.

By John Ruberry

I hate to interrupt your day by veering away from such issues, well, issues to some, such as the Donald Trump campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia or that nation’s reputed hacking of the 2016 presidential election, but there is something more important that the mainstream media is only nibbling at the edges of: the Great American Pension Swindle.

What is it?

Underfunded pension plans in blue states, well mostly blue states.

Here are some media headlines from just this month:

I could go on and on.

As for that last one, many bond firms rate Chicago Public Schools’ bonds as junk. The collateral for its latest loan, and that’s a generous use of the term, is money owed to CPS by the state of Illinois, the Puerto Rico of the Midwest. Illinois’ public-worker pension plans are just 29 percent funded. Chicago’s pensions are worse–at 25 percent funded, the worst among 15 large cities surveyed.

I don’t have Schadenfreude over this situation. On a personal level the spouse of a friend of mine and one of my cousins are collecting Illinois State Police pensions. They were promised these retirement plans and they didn’t pay into Social Security when they worked for the state. There was no opt-out option for them in regards to these pensions. And their union, unlike AFSCME, wasn’t showering Illinois politicians, mostly Democrats, with copious campaign contributions while the state was shortchanging and even skipping payments into pension funds.

Now what?

John “Lee” Ruberry of Da Tech Guy’s Magnificent Seven

I suspect bankruptcies in all but name, which I wrote about earlier this month in this space, are coming to Illinois and other states who see pensions as a reward system for political sponsors such as AFSCME. Here’s another possibility: run-of-the-mill taxpayers, many of whom are just getting by financially and have no pensions of their own, nor the ability to retire in their 50s, will have to cough up even more in taxes to bail out public worker retirement funds.

This tragedy is not the fault of the Russians. Vladimir Putin didn’t hack the pension funds.  But too bad that’s not what happened. Then perhaps MSNBC, CNN, the Washington Post, and the New York Times might devote more time to the Great American Pension Swindle.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.