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.

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.

The latest in our series of Questions on the 10’s Buddy Roemer answer a question on Public sector employees.

If your candidate is appearing anywhere in driving distance of me in Fitchburg Mass. and you want me to cover a Q & A, send me the event info. If it is farther away and you want to fly me in, cover my expenses and I’ll do that too.