Illinois has always been my home, my sweet home, Chicago. But our sweet home is ever so sour. There’s been a suffering amongst Illinoisans that does not get much attention, that source to their suffering comes from behind the curtain of a political machine that toys with the residents of this great state. It contains almost 13 million people that stretch from the cities, to the prairies, to Shawnee National Forest and to Lake Michigan. However, corruption has undermined our awareness and we’re about to be taken advantage of for the third year in a row.
Illinois has been corrupt since the mid-90’s when the pension talks first began but we’re seeing something new here: a historic state budget impasse that is costing Illinois taxpayers their entire state’s credit rating. With a current deficit of $9.6 billion, Illinois has gone without a state budget for almost 2 years, which is a first in United States history. Since there has been no sight of a budget or any cap on spending, our government continues to spend more than the state’s revenue every year.
Usually government officials would debate and compromise on what taxes will go towards, but alas, we keep paying the highest taxes in the country without any idea of where that hard earned money is going. Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan and Governor Bruce Rauner have fired this back and forth for 23 months and neither side seems to want to budge, even after the original deadline on May 31. Now, it will require a three-fifths majority vote to pass any budget bill and as these 10-day legislative special sessions unfold in Springfield this week, many are anxiously waiting to see if both parties will compromise or if we’ll enter a third year without a budget.
While their egos were fighting like children trying to get their way, here are a few examples of the consequences of not having a state budget for 23 months. In one year alone, Illinois has accrued $800 million dollars in unpaid interest and penalties, according to ABC7 news in Chicago. We have an incredible $130 billion dollars in delayed pensions, 1,500 staff members have been laid off by public universities and community colleges, and major school districts like District U46, the second largest school district in Illinois, are owed millions of dollars and are facing massive school shutdowns come winter break.
Illinois owes school districts more than $1.1 billion in categorical payments for special education, transportation, bilingual and early childhood services, recorded in the Chicago Tribune. Agencies like Lutheran Social Services have had to cut 30 programs and eliminate 750 employees, a reduction of about 43% of their agency, according to the Daily Herald. Again, those are just a few examples since the fiscal budget in 2015 came to a close.
The Fiscal Budget of 2015 was signed under Governor Pat Quinn in the summer of 2014 and expired in June 2015. After Gov. Rauner was sworn into office in January of 2015, he proposed his Turnaround Agenda for FY16, and proposed it for FY17, and now FY18. However, we’ve seen a gridlock between Rauner and the Democratic legislators, lead by Illinois Speaker Madigan. The Illinois Governor’s Office of Management and Budget proposed the FY16 in February of 2015 but Rauner and Madigan split hairs.
Madigan wanted tax hikes and Rauner wouldn’t agree unless his Turnaround Agenda passed through the General Assembly, but most of the budget bills the GA would send to Rauner’s office were vetoed. Luckily, despite a few months of bickering between the parties, a stopgap budget was agreed upon for the 2017 fiscal year.
The stopgap budget operated on court-ordered spending. An $815 million spending fund was passed in the House but it came nowhere near the necessary amount the state’s’ programs and services required because much of those appropriations had to be used to pay off current debts. This 6-month temporary budget gave little relief to K-12 education, state vendor contracts and road construction services up to November of 2016. This week, Governor Rauner and the Illinois legislators are meeting in Springfield to come up with a balanced budget FY18 and we only have hours left.
I’d like to break down both budget proposals from Governor Rauner and Illinois Speaker Madigan. The Turnaround Agenda has been Rauner’s priority bill since he first proposed it in Feb. 2015. It contains multiple reforms for pensions, education, workers’ compensation and property taxes but also strips collective bargaining rights from unions.
His bill focuses on freezing property taxes for five years and letting the people decide for themselves as to whether they want to increase or decrease their tax contributions. Other additions in the bill include term limits on career politicians, cap spending and legislative redistricting. Rauner has also affirmed that he will veto any budget bill presented by the General Assembly if it doesn’t include his pro-business proposal before the Dems’ tax hike.
Illinois House Speaker Madigan has proposed the Senate 1 Bill, which would focus on schools, regulations of workers and insurance companies, pension reform as well, and transparency in the procurement of health care contracts. This bill includes a 5.5% tax hike, approximately 5 billion dollars that Illinois taxpayers will pick up. There is a definite emphasis on raising taxes and not so much on real reforms. Most of his budget proposals weigh heavily on the taxpayers, who will have to pay off the $15 billion deficit first before going to any services and programs.
Madigan has been the longest serving leader of any legislative body in United States history. He’s been Illinois Speaker of the House for the last 34 years, and with the exception of two years, he has been a House Representative since 1983 for the 22nd District on Chicago’s Southwest Side. He heavily contributed to his stepdaughter’s campaign, Lisa Madigan, when she ran for Attorney General of Illinois in 2003.
After her successful win, they’ve had control of the legislative body and many Republican budget bills sent to the Rules Committee have been tossed since Rauner took office. It’s clear to say that the Democrats have their hands tied and have been pressured to promote the democratic party platform by a Speaker that is closely tied to their campaigns and successes. Perhaps this wouldn’t just be speculation if it weren’t for the 23-month stalemate with the Governor. Lose control over the Dem-Senate or bend to Rauner?
From June 21 to June 30, the Governor and the state legislative body have been meeting behind closed doors in Springfield to find a compromise between their proposals. On the first day, the House of Representatives adjourned after only 7 minutes and 30 seconds,and each day of these sessions costs the taxpayers roughly $50,000.
After four days, less than 80 minutes had been clocked in as in session, and that has cost taxpayers a whopping $200,000 over four days. Rauner was absent for Monday’s hearing, tending to the Quad cities and Democrats are worried he’s avoiding direct negotiations. Madigan and Rauner have not personally spoken to each other since December of 2016.
An unprecedented 700 plus day gridlock is bringing down Illinois’ credit rating to almost a junk bond status. We are now an “at risk” state and we’ve been on the decline since 2014. S&P Global rated Illinois as an -A in ‘14, then a BBB+ to a BBB with a negative outlook in ‘16 and recently downgraded Illinois bond ratings to Baa2. It will be very difficult to borrow from investors at low interest rates because Illinois is at greater risk of not being able to repay its debts due to this unconscionable impasse. We will have to borrow more money at high interest rates and watch our deficit burst.
We must hold Governor Rauner and the the Democratic legislators accountable for this historic downfall of the fifth most populated state in the country. Companies are moving to neighboring states and residents are fleeing the state by the tens of thousands every year because of the increase on income taxes and property taxes.
It’s time for the citizens of Illinois to contact their state legislators and voice their deep concerns for the future of this state. The people of Illinois can’t pay for Springfield’s misuse and abuse of power for a third year in a row. These special sessions need to come to an agreement or else it will be the 13 million Illinoisans that will continue to lose everything.