Do we win the prize for the 5,000th On Wisconsin blog post title? Just wondering… Probably, where you stand on the continuing saga of the Wisconsin collective bargaining fight depends on your political upbringing. One side favors Governor Scott Walker, the other favors the unions. One side identifies with the need to address out-of-control debt-spending ratios, the other with the need to fiercely protect the rights of workers.
Here in Beemsville, we’ve decided to frame this all as a downstate Illinois resident and observer (incidentally, this means we’re used to getting the shaft). Of course many have noted the high irony of the Wisconsin and Indiana lawmakers fleeing to the Land of Lincoln to avoid their respective votes (but boy are they going to be pissed when they find out they now have to pay a portion of our new and improved IL State Income Tax…) Illinois is the state Scott Walker and Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels see in their nightmares, the example they want to avoid. The missing state legislators might want o review some of the numbers while they’re hanging around in Rockford and Champaign:
- Current estimated Illinois budget deficit – $13 billion (2nd only to California)*
- $8.7 billion – amount of money Governor Pat Quinn proposed borrowing to address current unpaid bills
- Increased from spending, FY 2011-2012 budgets – 1.7 billion (you might think with all that debt and the income tax increase, someone might actually propose cutting spending, but then you’d be wrong)
- $7 billion – estimated amount of annual pension obligations by IL State Government in the next four years**
- $77.8 billion – estimated liability of all state pension funds***
Now those are some pretty hefty figures. We’re talking Greece-style debt, Republic of Ireland-type debt. And that last figure, dealing with the obligated unfunded pension, is something Illinois hasn’t really addressed in over a decade (yeah, yeah, Blago in charge, etc., etc.). The state is currently trying to sell $3.5 billion in bonds to raise money for the current pension payments – the macro equivalent of making the minimum payment on a credit card.
You might ask yourself – why hasn’t Illinois addressed these pension shortfalls? And that’s where you get into the political arguments. For one thing, the ability to cut retiree or even current employees’ benefits is severely limited by the state constitution. For another, the Illinois Democratic Party is so closely linked to the service unions, when one eats tacos, the other gets gas. For decades, state Dems have kicked back sweet deals to public employees, voting through increases, and codifying laws that make it nearly impossible to address personnel-based budget problems on the local level. Republicans had their time too, and they also found it easier to just play along with the music (especially in the 80s and 90s when IL GOP governors worked with relative economic prosperity).
Where we live, south of I-80, people just like to blame it all on Chicago. Satisfying, but not entirely correct either: there have been plenty of farm-friendly and rural enabling alliances over the years. And now Governor Quinn is (finally, about 40 years too late) advocating large-scale consolidation of smaller school districts – but that’s for a later rant…
Nobody really likes the idea of cutting benefits for working folks. Anyone but the most rabid/delusional conservative, will, upon examining the historical context of business-labor relations in this country, recognize the dire need for collective bargaining and unions over the past 100 years (for some powerful reading, see this book). At the same time, we’re not talking about corporate entities with profit margins deserving to be shared; we’re talking about tax-based income. And these taxes have gone up and up, especially in the Midwest. How much more of this are we expected to shoulder. How many more businesses have to flee to better climes?
As an IL resident, I almost snicker when I see the figures for Wisconsin or Indiana, or even Ohio. Puny little sums, one and all. Illinois is one of the poster children for tax, spend, and increase government size-style state government. And now, like California, we’re looking at a federal bailout (though everyone always denies this possibility) as the likely way out. And this is why guys like Walker and Daniels and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie have tried to change the playing field.
You may have problems with the way things have progressed in Wisconsin. Yell at the governor, deride the out-of-state union bosses, castigate the State Dems for refusing to do their elected duty… There’s plenty of blame on both sides of the camp. But whether you’re a Badger, a Hoosier, or just an interested observer, be sure to take a look at the Illinois situation. We dare you.