Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner delivers his State of the State address in the Illinois House chamber Wednesday in Springfield, Ill. (Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register via AP)

Phil Kadner: Illinois in the universe of alternative facts

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Having entered the era of the alternate universe, it seems to me Illinois might benefit from a good dose of Trump-speak.

Take the the $11 billion in unpaid bills sitting on the desk of the state comptroller. Instead of the traditional “sky is falling” approach about the future of Illinois, which has resulted in no finance improvement, how about adopting an alternative set of facts?

Looking at the situation from that perspective, Illinois has no debt. In (alternative) fact, it has a balanced budget. Sing, “We’re in the money, we’re in the money, we’ve got a lot of what it takes to get along.”


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Residents of this state would feel better, I believe, once they realize the political war between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan has resulted in no lasting negative financial impact.

How about that $130 billion in debt owed to the five state pension funds?

No problem. Those figures have been exaggerated by the news media. In our Trump-like alternative universe, we do not owe those pension funds a dime.

Actually, Illinois governors and state legislators took that approach for about 20 years, so it’s not as novel as some might think. It used to be referred to as “kicking the can down the road” by editorial page writers and political pundits. Sounds like a kid’s game, which is part of the reason people didn’t take much notice as the pension debt mounted by a few billion dollars each year.

And this approach allowed elected officials to use the money that would have funded the pensions to pay for other things instead of raising taxes.

People don’t like taxes. So if taxes didn’t increase to pay for everything, the public really didn’t care about the pension fund debt. The money we all owed simply didn’t exist, the politicians acted as if they actually lived in an alternate universe where bills never came due and everyone was happy.

The illusion was destroyed when former Gov. Pat Quinn and fellow Democrats raised the state income tax to actually pay for stuff. Then the public took notice. A voter rebellion led to the election of Rauner, who vowed to balance the state budget debt by eliminating collective bargaining for government workers and reducing workers’ compensation payments. And, by the way, the state would increase public education funding.

That’s right. Illinois remained in the vanguard of the alternative fact approach with Rauner promising to spend more money on schools despite the $100-plus billion or so the state owed the pension funds and the millions of dollars in unpaid bills sitting on the comptroller’s desk.

Voters here embraced the new governor’s plan because they knew it would make this state great again. Fantastic!

Rauner, Republican legislators and many Democrats in Springfield have also vowed to freeze property taxes.

In the real world this would make no sense because Illinois public schools have the worst funding gap between rich and poor school districts in the nation. This state has used revenues that should have financed the schools to fund other programs, meaning that local property taxes are the major source of public education funding in Illinois.

So it would appear that with no money to fund the pensions, no money to pay the bills and no extra cash lying around to pay for education, property taxes would have to increase to continue to pay for the schools.

But with our new alternative set of facts, Illinois can freeze property taxes, spend about $500 million more on the schools, and get Mexico to pay for it.

There are many people who don’t understand how the Trumpeters get away with spewing such obvious nonsense. “How can you accept such bold-faced lies from an elected leader?” the critics ask.

As if politicians haven’t always lived in an alternative universe, where facts are fabricated and lies proclaimed as absolute truths.


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