First, former Gov. Jim Edgar told The State Journal-Register of Springfield that Rauner shouldn’t “hold the budget hostage” by pushing for term limits and policy reforms that could stop other states from stealing Illinois jobs. Former Gov. Jim Thompson then fretted to the Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, “This is the worst position the state of Illinois has ever been in.” Crain’s Chicago Business editorialized, “Rauner, even your allies are losing patience” — although the only “ally” cited was the backsliding Edgar.
To which a more resolute Rauner ally, Illinois Chamber of Commerce CEO Todd Maisch, retorted: “The chamber recognizes that the current budget stalemate is causing real pain across our state. … Four months is a long time to go without a budget. But it pales in comparison to a 12-year wait for state government to return to fiscal sanity, basic competency and a partnership with business that allows both to prosper. Those things are more than important. They are vital. They are also hard and worth the wait. Hang in there, Governor.”
Feel free to marvel at the Rauner critics who had a hand in creating Illinois’ financial debacle. We’ve noted that Edgar and House Speaker Michael Madigan created the so-called “Edgar ramp,” a failed pension rescue plan. Thompson had approved an earlier ineffective pension funding scheme — even as he aggravated the problem by sweetening retirees’ benefits. As this page noted in 1991, “Thompson, meanwhile, got a deal that doubled his own pension.”
Just as peculiar: critiques of Rauner from the Democratic leaders who for decades pushed the pension and other legislation that devastated Illinois finances and drove employers to fiscally stable, less taxing states. In some cultures, leaders accept responsibility for their failures and humbly go away. In Illinois, the leaders cling to power and blame newcomers for the havoc they wrought.
The fruit of their long dereliction? One poisonous toxin and two useful tonics:
•Rauner inherited their noxious brew of intentionally unbalanced budgets, lousy credit ratings, unfunded pension obligations and truly enormous taxpayer debts.
•Yet all that Springfield bungling, and Rauner’s pledge to shake up the town, also put him in the governor’s office. His reward for keeping his word: a relentless, often personal assault against him from some formerly protected interests that see Rauner as the incarnate threat to their primacy and power. As other states modernize labor laws and scramble to attract new jobs, so perhaps will Illinois.
•The mismanagement of Illinois has been so egregious that, paradoxically, it gives Rauner leverage. For decades Springfield politicians enacted and enabled the pension and other costly laws that ruined Chicago’s finances. The city is so desperate for cash that, even as Mayor Rahm Emanuel imposes $755 million in new taxes and fees, he’s asking Springfield for more than $800 million to balance his City Hall, schools and transit budgets. Much of that would come from the nonexistent budget of a broke state with billions of dollars in past-due bills.
Though they can never admit it, this surely frustrates Madigan & Co.: Springfield, by letting Chicago deteriorate, has driven Chicago to rely on Springfield. To rely, that is, on … Rauner’s signature.
But the Surrender Illinois Caucus, yearning for the stability it undermined, wants Rauner to cave to the Democrats on budgets and leave reforms for a day that, until now, has never, ever, arrived.
Governor, ignore the Caucus. You’d betray voters who elected you if you didn’t secure economic and other reforms to help rescue Illinois. Here’s why: This state cannot tax or cut its way to prosperity. Illinois instead must grow more jobs, more taxpayers and thus more revenues.
That means making Illinois less hostile to employers. The faster Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Emanuel acknowledge how Springfield raised the cost of Chicago government (and of burdened taxpayers doing business here), the faster all of you can settle on spending and revenue for Springfield and Chicago.
Some in the Surrender Illinois Caucus huff that because your agenda would diminish labor’s clout, you want them to violate their “core principles.” As if what they hold dear is sacramental, untouchable and so cannot possibly change.
Remind your critics that they don’t have a monopoly on “core principles.” Remind them, too, of Madigan’s words on Feb. 8, 2011, when he warned House members that the state’s predicament would force unpopular votes: “Again, tough decision-making, telling people, ‘You’re not going to get everything you thought you were going to get,’ telling people, ‘You may have to pay in more.’ Not easy stuff. So we all better get ready for it.”
And remind them, Governor, of the core principles on which all of us should agree:
Everyone in this discussion is less important than the overspent, overpromised and imperiled future of Illinois.
Everyone in this discussion should want Illinois restored to government solvency and economic prosperity.
And everyone — Republicans and Democrats in the Surrender Caucus included — ought to put Illinois’ future ahead of his or her interests and pride.