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.

Lake Michigan at Evanston, IL. Is Puerto Rico’s present Illinois’ future?

By John Ruberry

If you believe that states–and commonwealths–cannot declare bankruptcy, you are technically correct. But last week a commonwealth, Puerto Rico, filed for bankruptcy in all but name, utilizing the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2016.

That bill of course was written for Puerto Rico in mind, but with Republicans in control of all levels of the federal government, similar bills can be proposed for the fifty states, or just some of them, including California, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Illinois. Those three are among the states that have fallen victim to what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg dubbed the “labor-electoral complex” in his farewell address four years ago.

What’s that? It’s when public-sector unions, consisting of workers on the taxpayer payroll, cajole politicians–almost always Democratic ones–to increase their salaries or defer their pay hikes by way of generous yet unaffordable pension plans.

And of course these pols are cajoled by these unions through campaign contributions.

Puerto Rican flag flies between two abandoned Chicago homes

Many local government workers don’t pay into social security and many of them have no other pension plans. In states like Illinois, if you work for the state government, funds deducted for your retirement only go to one place–an Illinois retirement plan. So far so good–unless the politicians neglect to properly fund those pension programs.

And that has been the sad case in those blue states I mentioned earlier, as well as Kentucky.

Now that Puerto Rico has declared, well, something, investors will very likely take a closer look at sinking cash into what may be sinking ships. Puerto Rico has negative population growth. So does Illinois. That means fewer taxpayers are participating in funding these failures. And it’s the productive citizens who are leaving Illinois and Puerto Rico.

Yesterday Puerto Rico announced it was closing 184 schools and there is speculation that commonwealth retirees may suffer a 20 percent cut in their pensions. Expect much more bad news from there.

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

It doesn’t have to end up this way in states like Illinois–if corrective action is taken immediately. Let me define “immediately” for those politicians who may be reading this post.

Immediately means 2017, not ten years from now.

Ten years ago the financial situation in Puerto Rico wasn’t as dire.

John Ruberry regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit.

Abandoned plant in Harvey

By John Ruberry

Contained in my inbox this morning was an email from Crain’s Chicago Business touting an article by Dennis Rodkin, “Can Chicago’s Southland Be Rebuilt?” In short, “probably” is his answer. Mine is “no.”

Chicago’s Southland covers the city’s South Side and its southern suburbs, some definitions include the Southwest Side and the southwest suburbs. I grew up in Palos Heights, a southwest suburb, after spending my early childhood on Chicago’s Far South Side.

After several readings–I want to make sure I’m right before pointing fingers–I was surprised, but not shocked, to learn that three words were missing from Rodkin’s piece: Corruption, cronyism, and graft. While Illinois is a very dishonest state, and Chicago and Cook County are the epicenter of  its dishonesty, Chicago’s Southland is the rottenest apple in this foul orchard. Five of the last six sitting or former Chicago aldermen convicted of crimes were South Siders. The two most recent Chicago City Council indictments are for Ald. Willie Cochran, whose predecessor went to prison for bribery, and former alderman Edward Vrdolyak, who has already served time in the House with Many Doors. Do you want to guess what part of the city they are from?

Vacant Far South Side home

South of Chicago is Harvey. While surprisingly light on convictions, Harvey is considered the most corrupt town in Illinois, which is saying a lot. For years the Daily Southtown, among its front web page tabs such as “Weather” and “Sports,” there was another, “Harvey.” Next to Harvey is Markham. Earlier this month voters foolishly elected a convicted felon as its mayor. The Cook County state’s attorney office is suing to prevent the mayor-elect from taking office. Nearby is Dolton. Four years ago its village president told CBS Chicago, “Over the past few weeks we’ve heard reports of ghost payrolling, vehicles being purchased without authorization, unauthorized overtime and the unauthorized use of village gas.”

Cochran was indicted last year

Illinois’ second congressional district covers much of the Southland. In 1995 its representative, Mel Reynolds, was found guilty of crimes centered around a sexual relationship with an underage campaign volunteer. He was later convicted of a slew of financial crimes. His successor was Jesse Jackson Jr, who, along with his wife, a South Side Chicago alderman, went to prison for spending campaign cash on personal items.

The most notorious Chicago Southlander is Michael Madigan of the Southwest Side. Illinois’ financial situation has descended to the point that it is functionally bankrupt. Because of generous public-sector pension commitments, which were never properly funded, Illinois is over $200 billion in debt, despite a balanced budget requirement in the state constitution.

Yes, Chicago’s Southland is majority black. Which means African Americans are being robbed the most by these so-called public servants who see government not as a higher calling, but as an opportunity to dishonestly enrich themselves and their cronies.

Much of the Southland is blighted. But there is still plenty of money to be made there, but for the most part, only if you are a crook and if you know the right people. Or if you pay off the right people. Or if you hire that politician’s brother-in-law to remodel your office so you can get that zoning variance passed.

Rodkin does touch on the soaring property tax rates in the south suburbs. But he misses the point. As people leave the Southland–and yes, they are leaving–there are fewer people left to pay the bar bill for these corrupt-and-drunk-with-power politicians in Illinois’ Corruption Corridor.

Public graft is expensive.

Oh, 600 words or so into this piece, and I didn’t even, until now, mention the region’s problems with rampant violence.

Every politician I mentioned so far is a Democrat, except for Vrdolyak, is once was chairman of the Cook County Democratic Party.

Blogger in Harvey

In related news, last week the 14 year corruption sentence of former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich, who is not from Chicago’s Southland, was upheld by a US Appeals Court. That’s bad news for course for Blago, but good news for law-abiding Illinoisans–yes, we do exist. If Chicago’s Southland–and the rest of the state–has any hope of receiving honest government, long sentences such as the one Blagojevich was given just might be the cure. Fear of a long stay in a federal prison might scare some scoundrels straight–or better yet, frighten dishonest people away from a career in government.

But at least in the short term, I predict things will get even worse in Chicago’s Southland–and in the rest of Illinois.

John Ruberry, a lifelong Illinoisan, 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.

Chicago’s lakefront

By John Ruberry

“Decent people shouldn’t live here. They’d be happier someplace else.”
Jack Napier/The Joker in Batman.

Often, I’m asked, “Why is Chicago so corrupt?” The short answer? It’s always been that way.

Now let me expand a bit.

Earlier this month the Department of Justice released a report that excoriated the Chicago Police Department for use of excessive force, slipshod training, and soft discipline within its ranks. The report was produced because of the shooting in 2014–with sixteen bullets–of an unarmed teen black Laquan McDonald by a white Chicago cop.

But the Chicago Tribune’s John Kass noted a significant omission in that report: Chicago’s corruption culture.

It wasn’t the Chicago cops who shaped the police culture. The political corruption and cynicism of politicians over decades in a one-party Democratic machine town shaped the culture.

Kass adds that it was City Hall that sat on the damning police video of McDonald getting shot. It was released over a year later–seven months after Mayor Rahm Emanuel was releected. Kass, without mentioning his name, reminded readers that longtime CPD chief of detectives, William Hanhardt, was placed in that position by his political friends. Hanhardt, a mob cop, ran a jewelry theft ring while he was chasing select other bad guys.

But why is Chicago so corrupt?

Chicago, like other Midwestern cities, was settled first by New Englanders and upstate New Yorkers, white Anglo-Saxon protestants mainly. But Irish people fleeing the Potato Famine and seeking work on such projects as the Illinois & Michigan Canal, along with Germans, were the first wave of immigrants to Chicago. My great-great grandfather, another John Ruberry, was part of this wave. But the Irish already knew English and the arguably more numerous Germans initially did not. Which meant that the Irish were able to qualify for government jobs. Then some of them made the logical next step–run for political office.

The eighteenth-century Irish were unwilling subjects of the British Empire–they viewed government as an alien force and many didn’t see anything wrong with stealing from that government. Old habits are hard to break–and many Irish-Americans saw public service as an opportunity to stuff their pockets with bribes and kickbacks–and to place their friends and relatives in other government positions. Or to offer other friends and relatives government contracts, who might reward their patrons with “gifts.”

So Chicago’s culture of corruption was born.

Other immigrants followed–many with similar backgrounds. Poles didn’t have their own nation for the entire 18th century, the majority of Chicago’s Italian immigrants came from southern Italy, and there was no love between them and the Italian royal house, which emerged from the northern half of the peninsula. The Czechs and the Croatians were part of Austria-Hungary.

Abandoned South Side home

Even newcomers to Chicago who were Americans fit the bill.

Until the mid-1960s blacks who came to Chicago as part of the Great Migration were subject to Jim Crow laws and could not vote. Clearly local government was not their government. Puerto Rican corruption is even worse than that of Chicago.

You can make the same argument about Mexico, the latest source of mass-immigration to Chicago.

Another Chicago newspaper columnist, the legendary Mike Royko, often quipped that Chicago’s official slogan should be “Where’s mine?”

Roughly once every 18 months a Chicago alderman is sentenced to prison. One of Chicago’s dirtiest secrets is the coziness between politicians and street gangs.

My point is not to demonize any group but to explain how Chicago got to the unhappy place where it is. For instance, my father, another John Ruberry–he went by Jack–once told my mother, “I’d like to work in politics.” She replied, “That will never work out–you are too honest.” My dad was 100-percent Irish-American. And yes, my mother was right–and my father never ran for public office. This decent man moved his family out of Chicago in 1968.

Meanwhile, Chicago, and yes, the rest of Illinois is a cesspool of cronyism and corruption.

Oh, you WASPs, particularly Republican ones reading this post–I’m coming for you.

Much is made of Chicago not having a Republican mayor since 1931. But that mayor was William Hale Thompson, a Boston-born Protestant who was probably Chicago’s most corrupt mayor. Thompson was a protector and sponsor of Al Capone. Thompson, a crook, was able to reap dishonest benefits from a crooked bureaucracy that was already in place. After his death two safe deposit boxes containing nearly $2 million were discovered. Although Thompson’s successor, Czech immigrant Anton Cermak, founded the modern Chicago Democratic machine, he was a better mayor than Thompson.

I began with a quote from one Batman movie and I’ll end this post with a quote from another, this time from Batman Begins.

The League of Shadows has been a check against human corruption for thousands of years. We sacked Rome, loaded trade ships with plague rats, burned London to the ground. Every time a civilization reaches the pinnacle of its decadence, we return to restore the balance.

John “Lee” Ruberry of the Magnificent Seven

Chicago is clearly in decline. Payoffs to public-sector union members, pensions that weren’t properly funded, gave Chicagoans–including of course the decent ones–their largest property tax hike ever two years ago, followed by more tax increases last year. No serious person believes there won’t be more soon. Last year more Chicagoans were murdered than those killed in New York City and Los Angeles–combined.

Chicago is at its lowest population in one hundred years, coincidentally, that was when Chicago was still a boom town and William Hale Thompson was mayor.

While there is no League of Shadows, Chicago is long overdue for a check against human corruption.

Where is Chicago’s Bruce Wayne?

Or its Bruce Waynes?

And no, I’m not calling for bubonic plague in Chicago. The city is emptying out just fine on its own.

John Ruberry, a decent man who moved his family out of Chicago in 1999, regularly blogs at Marathon Pundit. 

South Loop Downtown
Chicago’s downtown

By John Ruberry

Two unwelcome pieces of bad news punched Chicago in the face last week. A state pension reform law for two municipal pension plans was unanimously ruled unconstitutional by the Illinois Supreme Court.

Also last week came news that the Chicago metropolitan area saw the biggest population drop of the nation’s metro regions. Chicago proper gained a miserly 82 new residents, just enough to fill two CTA buses.

Last year, as part of a rescue for two other city worker pension plans, Mayor Rahm Emanuel  signed into law the largest property tax hike in city history.

Chicago’s bonds are rated as junk, as are those of the Chicago Park District and Chicago Public Schools.

On New Year’s Day Cook County, where Chicago is, raised its portion of the local sales tax to pay for–you guessed it–underfunded county worker pensions.

Illinois’ worker pension funds are the worst funded of the 50 states.

CTA bus
Half of Chicago’s new 2015 residents are on this bus!

This debacle, to use former Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s ham-headed attempt to rename terrorist attacks, is a man-caused disaster, the root of which is public-sector unions contributing millions to politicians, mostly Democrats, who lavished these pension benefits on government employees, even though they knew that they were unaffordable.

Chicago has many other problems. Los Angeles and New York have more people but Chicago topped them in murders last year. Many Chicagoans, because of the Laquan McDonald fatal shooting by a Chicago police officer, are extremely distrustful of law enforcement.

McDonald was failed by Chicago’s schools and the state’s social services agencies.

On Friday members of the Chicago Teachers Union will stage an illegal one-day walk out. They want a big pay raise in their next contract. Chicago Public Schools’ financial situation is so dire that Illinois’ reform governor, Republican Bruce Rauner, favors changing state law so CPS can declare bankruptcy. CPS’ pension fund is a sinkhole too.

Why stop with CPS when it comes to bankruptcy?

Abandoned West Side apartments
Abandoned West Side apartments

As for those schools, in 2012 about 80 percent of CPS 8th graders weren’t proficient at grade level in math and reading, despite most schools having “academy” or some other fancy moniker in their names.

Outside of a beautiful downtown and a picturesque lakefront, clearly there aren’t too many reasons for people to choose to live in Chicago–or stay there. Most of the people moving in are foreigners–naive people who haven’t heard the bad news yet about the city. If you really enjoy the lakefront and the Loop, well, you can always vacation there. Just don’t venture too far away from the city’s center.

Chicago only has bad options to work its way out of its mess. Another historically large property tax is one possibility. One 2015 mayoral candidate suggested a commuter tax as a revenue source. Ask Detroit how its commuter tax is working out. The hardened leftist who runs the Chicago Teachers Union, Karen Lewis, suggests a municipal income tax as a city cure.

Detroit has one of those too.

Better options are amending the Illinois constitution to make pension reform easier or, as I touched on earlier, changing state law so governmental bodies can declare bankruptcy.

John "Lee" Ruberry
John “Lee” Ruberry

Chicago needs to move quickly or it risks becoming America’s next Detroit.

Or perhaps it’s already too late.

Related post:

I walked its streets–the tragedy of Detroit.

John Ruberry, a lifelong Chicago area resident, blogs regularly at Marathon Pundit