Reforms Face Uphill Battle

Illinois has a tradition of inept government, and while some people would like to see changes and reform efforts, the system tends to favor the status quo.  Witness initiatives to add term limits to elected officials.  Both gubernatorial candidates, Bruce Rauner and Pat Quinn, support term limits, though Quinn has found that position a little less pleasing now that he’s attempting to win a second term.

But in order to even get such a proposal on the ballot this November, it needs a 3/5 majority from both (heavily Democrat-controlled) legislative houses and approval from the State Board of Elections.  Ask yourself this – how likely are career politicians like Mike Madigan and John Cullerton to let this happen?  After all, they’ve built their fortunes and power base through longevity.  It term limits did make it onto the ballot, polling indicates the voters would support it – but that’s if, if such an initiative can be worded simply enough for everyone to make sense of it.  Anyone who’s voted in Illinois a few times has seen their share of vague and murky language.  Still, if Rauner threw some money behind it, maybe we could get term limits. Continue reading

Dead Last

Last week we saw it in the news:  Illinois ranks last in the nation when it comes to how much money the state kicks in for public education.  Dead last.  Again.  It’s been that way for the last couple of years.  Officials were quick to point out that it’s a ‘complicated formula’ making this determination, but once again, the state will only pay 89% of what it said it would pay to school districts and universities.

You want to know what years and years of gross mismanagement and corruption will get you?  Look no farther than your schools.  In our town they’re looking to cut teacher positions at the high schools and eliminate a period in the school day.  The current budget shortfalls are unsustainable, but the consensus is our electorate is unlikely to pass a small property tax increase to fund the schools.  Out in the rural areas, they’ve already passed these property tax increases (because it’s the only way to increase revenue at the local level), so everyone is paying more for schools that are often under-performing or cutting curriculum and activity choices.

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Pension Reform?

A funny thing happened in Springfield yesterday:  the state legislature actually did something.  They passed a bill to cut benefits from Illinois’ ridiculously underfunded pension system.  Political leaders like Governor Pat Quinn and House Speaker Mike Madigan will point to $130 billion in savings over the next 30 years and move on to their re-election campaigns for 2014.  Predictably, those dependent on the pensions are angry.  We had a contract, they say.  It’s unconstitutional, they say.  See you in court, they warn.  And, of course, that’s the next step.

To us it looks like Illinois is finally accepting it’s lot as a state declaring bankruptcy.  Unfunded pension liability has been dragging the state down for decades.  Meanwhile, the court systems continue to opine against the ‘too big to fail’ mentality for state and local government.  Look at what happened in Michigan yesterday: a bankruptcy court refused to lump local municipal pension failures on the state government.  So what do you do if it’s the next level of government taken to court with no funds?  Appeal to the President?

We note with interest (as has everyone else) that the current plan leaves the pensions of the state judges alone (to avoid conflict of interest, wink-wink, said Madigan).  Right.

This won’t truly be resolved anytime soon, and today there are a lot of state and local government workers and retirees who are feeling uneasy.  As well they should.  Their financial futures are (and have been) in the hands of a pretty bad lot of politicians within one of the worst government set-ups in the country.  We sympathize, but the money’s just not there.

It would be easy to take shots at  But who needs more of that; plenty of electrons have already been killed in that regard.  How about we bring it a little closer to home for government failure.  Yes, we’re Ron Swanson mode.

  • ITEM – Neighboring school district Riverton cut their elementary school art program this year.
  • ITEM – Springfield class sizes continue to grow and at my kids’ school they’re averaging 27 kids per class.
  • ITEM – Even in the neighboring wealthy school district Chatham, they’re dipping into their funds and considering selling some land assets to fun operations.

For Part II of this exhibition we  go to the highways and byways, where rural roads outside the small town of my youth will soon become nearly impassable.  The combination of bad weather and no repairs in years will turn back the clock to Great Depression-like conditions.  Meanwhile, bridges around Illinois age towards structural failure. Continue reading

Drought in the Debtor State

We recently headed east to Ohio for a family reunion and water-sports showdown.  Because I’m only a generation removed from farming, I couldn’t help but notice the dire state of the corn and soybeans across Illinois, Indiana, and into central Ohio.  Drought emergencies have been declared in multiple states.  You don’t have to look for the official declaration, however, just look at the worry lines and frowns in the small towns throughout the Midwest.  People know that a certain percentage of peers will face bankruptcy as a result, and no amount of federal emergency funding will change that.

What does it mean for you?  Expect an increase to your grocery bill in the next few months – 25% or higher, depending on your diet and where you live.  Grain and soy prices affect such a large portion of the food supply…

Gov. Quinn holds up metaphor for IL tax base

…And while you’re at it, go ahead an budget for the continuing increase to your taxes – especially you fellow resident of Illinois.  The debtor state’s comptroller just announced an estimated $7.5-8 billion figure for monies owed to entities such as vendors, schools, and municipalities.  This backlog of bills is, of course, only a small portion of an astronomical $43 billion deficit, if one considers the cost of pension benefits owed to state workers.  This despite the tax increase Governor Pat Quinn campaigned on.

Our trip to Ohio brought us into states that actually have budget surpluses.  Yes, a foreign concept around here, but there they were on the Columbus local news, discussing the best way to obligate funds for a budget surplus.  I’m thinking, what kind of magicians, what superhuman policymakers could achieve such fiscal responsibility?   Continue reading

Illinois Debt Top 10

Late last Friday came the news that Moodys cut the State of Illinois’ credit rating, meaning tax-payers will have to pay an even higher rate of interest on all the debt the state continues to accumulate.  This, in combination with news that California’s credit rating actually increased (hey, they know people who know people out there), means Illinois has the worst credit rating of all fifty states.

And so we bring you, in classic Letterman style…


10. C’mon, man, it’s not like we’re using.  We’re clean.  We’re clean…

9.  What do you mean we only get in-store credit?  It used to be called the Sears Tower!  And look – it’s Wrigley Field and Soldier Field and stuff.  That’s got to be worth something….

8.   Give us better rates or we’ll file a grievance with the union.

7.  What are you going to do?  Move to Indiana?  Wisconsin?  Missouri?  Iowa?!?

6.  We gotta plan:  casinos, casinos, casinos.  Put ’em everywhere.  What’s the worst that can happen? Continue reading

Jury of his peers?

Jury selection is under way for former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich (and his hair) in Chicago.  It’s a retrial, as you recall, because in our last go around the defense attorneys managed to convince one weak-minded individual that “she couldn’t be responsible for sending him [Blago] away for that long”.  Never mind about deliberating on the facts of the case separately.

Of course this was the Team Blago strategy from the get-go:  seek out as much free publicity as humanly possible, thus interfering with a potential jury pool, then attempt to stock the jury with at least a few fools who could be somehow manipulated or .  Now comes round two.  We have one woman who warned the judge about the trial interfering with her tickets to the last Oprah show.  We have a claustrophobic and other characters.   Continue reading

(Piling) On Wisconsin

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.

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Throw ’em Out!

Your official 2010 Illinois Election mantra should be, Throw the Bums Out! Taking a cue from the Chicago Tribune’s excellent beginning-of-the-year editorial, that’s what ours will be.  And if there was ever year for it – especially in state government – this is the one.  To quote:

Too many incumbents enable the Illinois culture of political sleaze that continues to suffuse so many layers of government in this state. Even with one defrocked governor in prison and another awaiting trial, clout still drives decisions on whom governments hire and how they spend taxpayers’ dollars. The endurance of that culture has all but destroyed public confidence in Illinois’ political class. Ruling oligarchs, fed with campaign donations from the beneficiaries of their largesse, want primarily to extend their power…

The big problem is, we haven’t learned our lesson.  We continue to not vote them out even though they refuse to address the growing budget crisis, the bloated bureaucracy, the clout-based decision-making, the problems with the educational system.  Why is this?  Well, because it’s hard.

The Illinois primary system has been built to back those in power with established ties, not new candidates with fresh ideas and fewer political debts.  Also, we have some of the weakest political disclosure laws in the nation, which makes it difficult to sort through the morass of finances and influence peddling that makes Springfield tick.

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