At RealClearPolitics Adam Schuster of the Illinois Policy Institute provides a primer on how the State of Illinois’s finances got into the terrible condition they’re in:
In 1980, Illinois had just $4.5 billion of pension debt and top-rated AAA credit. Today it has the nation’s worst pension crisis with nearly $140 billion in unfunded liabilities and the nation’s lowest credit rating, just one notch above junk status.
Many politicians share the blame, but Madigan has been the constant. He sponsored the major legislation or allowed the bad bills to pass. Madigan owns Illinois’ failing finances.
Even before he was speaker, Madigan was part of Illinois’ foundational mistake on pensions.
Madigan was a delegate to the 1970 constitutional convention. He voted for the pension clause that states government retirement benefits cannot be “diminished or impaired.” Based on that clause, the Illinois Supreme Court overturned pension reform in 2015 and stated it prevents any effective pension reforms unless the Illinois Constitution is amended to nullify it.
Since then, Madigan’s majority has repeatedly doled out unaffordable but politically advantageous retirement perks the clause permanently locked in place. The speaker and his allies hid the costs from taxpayers and pushed off the day of reckoning with dangerous pension funding games and debt.
He concludes by proposing some reforms:
Two places to start are amending the Illinois Constitution’s pension clause and replacing the House rules that Madigan used to craft Illinois’ infamous culture of corruption and pit of debt.
I agree with him that Madigan stands at the confluence of corruption and public pension debt but Illinois’s problems aren’t limited to that and they aren’t limited to Madigan.
Illinois also has the highest real estate taxes in the country. Coincidentally, Speaker Madigan is a partner in a law firm that specializes in securing real estate tax adjustments and derives income from it. The problem are not limited to public pensions and overt official corruption but extend beyond that to taxes and, indeed, everything the government touches and not just to what’s illegal but extends to what is legal but irredeemably corrupt. Our problems can’t actually be solved without either limiting the reach of government or making every possible corrupt practice illegal. The former is by far the easiest but cosmetic attempt at the latter are far more likely. More likely yet is a continuing downward spiral.
And our problems aren’t limited to Madigan. The race to insolvency began with the election of Rod Blagojevich, a manifest idiot, as governor. It’s more than a coincidence that Blagojevich is the son-in-law of someone who at the time was a powerful former Chicago alderman.
The problems aren’t limited to Illinois. The notion that obviously corrupt practices like influence peddling or reciprocity in political hiring are completely acceptable so long as they’re legal is a cancer undermining our entire system.