The political paralysis that’s killing Illinois has been good for the travel industry, if nothing else.
One resident leaves the state about every 4.6 minutes. The Chicago metropolitan area, we learned this month, has lost population two years in a row, and the move out is picking up.
Heck, even the only two legislative leaders who seem serious about ending the political paralysis might be bailing. Senate President John Cullerton and Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, who have worked for three months on a “grand bargain” to end the impasse, reportedly have told friends they just might quit the Senate if the deal falls through.
Meanwhile, Moody’s Investors Services, the bond rating agency, has cracked open the exit door more. Moody’s warned this week that Illinois’ already poor credit rating (Baa2 negative) will fall further if it continues to “drift without compromise.”
There’s a band name for you: Drift Without Compromise. With Bruce Rauner on guitar and Mike Madigan on bass.
We have supported the grand bargain because it represents the last best hope to solve some of our state’s biggest problems before re-election fever makes compromise impossible. The idea has been to give everybody — Gov. Rauner, House Speaker Madigan, the party caucuses, the unions, the chambers of commerce — a chunk of what they want in return for support for other stuff they can barely stomach.
The grand bargain, to our thinking, offers the only way in this politically dysfunctional state to drum up enough votes across party lines for such things as an income tax hike, a property tax freeze, more money for impoverished public schools, a trim to public employee pensions and the like.
But we’re just about tapped out on hope. If the grand bargain succeeds now, a minor miracle, it will be only because every fed-up voter in Illinois has warned his or her elected representatives and the governor that there will be payback at the polls if they dare to run for re-election without doing their job.
You know, like pass a budget. And pay $14.7 billion in overdue bills. And put a dent in the state’s $130 billion in unfunded pension liabilities. And do a better job of funding schools.
Instead, what we’ve witnessed this week is the unofficial start of the 2018 elections. So much for governing. We are a full year from the March 20, 2018, primary elections, but the games and rhetoric that are the death of compromise have begun.
Rauner has put out a TV ad calling for a balanced state budget — excellent idea! — and blaming the failure to pass one on the “politicians who got us into this mess.” We’re assuming the governor’s not talking about himself, though we might point out that Illinois has had no budget at all for most of the time he has been the chief executive.
Rauner also has returned to the unhelpful rhetoric of his first gubernatorial campaign, complaining in one radio interview that Illinois has a “kleptocracy,” not a democracy, and that the state suffers from “a level of corruption that’s one of the worst in America.” He does not name names, but he makes clear he’s talking about Madigan and Cullerton, perhaps among others.
On the other side of the partisan divide, a group of Springfield Democrats kicked into campaign mode this week by unveiling an “Illinois comeback agenda” that sounds impressive but offers nothing to end our state’s problems anytime soon.
The group’s call to replace the state’s flat income tax with a progressive tax, to cite one example, sounds good to us, but it would require a change in the Illinois Constitution. A promise on a campaign flyer won’t pay an overdue bill today to, say, a South Side daycare center for disabled children that is struggling to stay open.
Our fundamental disagreement with Gov. Rauner is that in his insistence in getting more of his pro-business reforms, Illinois is becoming something much less. Time’s a wastin. Two years of mounting bills, spiraling debt, sporadically funded universities and credit downgrades take a toll. People — and businesses — depart. Others fail to come in.
Our fundamental problem with Speaker Madigan is that nobody ever has a clue where he’s coming from. We support the deal that Cullerton and Radogno have largely hashed out, and we think Rauner should, too. Greater compromise is long overdue. But Madigan, for his part, has never once signaled his level of support for the bargain should it get to the House, which sure might help others — including the governor — get on board.
Madigan is killing the deal with silence.
The grand bargain does not lay out a fully balanced state budget. Despite a big proposed income tax hike, it still falls short on the revenue side, by an estimated $2 billion. That is no excuse not to support the deal. Once a dozen other big public policy challenges are off the table, such as pension reform and worker’s compensation reform, a bunch of politicians who claim to be grownups should be able to find the necessary spending cuts, if they are willing to own them equally.
All else is theatrics. Every squabble — about whether legislators should stand first or last in line for their pay, about whether the Thompson Center is being sold off soon enough, about whether a part of the I-55 Expressway should be privatized to generate more money — would be much less of a squabble if Illinois had a proper budget and a sensible financial plan for getting back on its feet.
Don’t be fooled by the show, now or on Election Day.
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