Why Illinois Has Bad Governance

I think that RNC member Richard Porter’s piece at RealClearPolitics about how bad governance is driving the “Illinois Exodus”, Illinois’s constant and large loss of population, is largely right as far as it does:

Illinois has a population problem: Our population has been shrinking faster than any other state (except one). The Chicago Tribune Editorial Board and others call this the Illinois Exodus.

Population changes are a measure of governance quality. We are free to choose where to live, and the United States offers 50 different states and thousands of different localities, each governed in different ways. People consider many factors when choosing where to live, and how a state is governed can be a significant factor in that decision. Over time, people migrate toward places that are governed well and away from areas that are governed poorly.

but it really doesn’t add a lot to the conversation.

The first quibble I’d make is that I don’t think that population changes are actually a measure of governance quality, at least not directly. I think that they’re more multi-factorial than that. All things equal everybody would live in Santa Barbara.

But all things are not equal and the cost of housing and the availability of jobs that pay enough to maintain the lifestyle that people expect to live can be greatly affected by government policy. Rather than being a measure of governance quality I think I might say that population changes are downstream of governance.

There are lots of different sorts of “bad governance”. All states have some, some states, e.g. Louisiana, have a lot, but few have as many different kinds as Illinois. Let’s consider some of them.


Few states match Illinois for government corruption. In my lifetime alone four governors have done time after serving in office. Two of the last five Illinois governors have served time for corruption in office. That must be some sort of record. Then there’s Operation Greylord, Dan Rostenkowski and the Congressional Post Office scandal, and the ongoing probe of Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan’s shakedown of ComEd, just to name a very few. The list goes on and on.

Fiscal Mismanagement

Starting in the late 1990s and continuing through the first decade or so of the 21st century, the State of Illinois stopped paying into public pension funds. The governor and lawmakers had better uses for the money—increasing public employee pay and expanding Medicaid, for example—and rather than raising taxes which would have been too unpopular politically, they just stopped paying into the pension funds. Those needs were in the future. Well, the future is now and those things have a way of catching up with you. Now those pension funds have holes in them which nobody really knows how to fill.

Illinois has been borrowing money to pay its huge backlog of bills ferociously and it has the worst credit rating of any state.

Mismatch of Policies and Needs

This is a chronic problem in Illinois. I’ll just cite one example. The last mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel, spent a lot of money on amenities for the “creative class” and not nearly enough on basic infrastructure, law enforcement, and the neighborhoods. Why? I think he had a misguided vision of Chicago as some sort of Midwestern San Francisco. He thought that he could attract prosperous upwardly mobile Millennials to Chicago that way. He was wrong. They don’t like Chicago’s weather, they don’t like its taxes, and there just aren’t enough jobs for those upwardly mobile Millennials.

I look at this tendency as a sort of inferiority complex on the part of our political leadership. They envy the “cool kids”—mayors of New York, San Francisco, Seattle, etc. Chicago will never be cool.

Outlaw Government

The Illinois Constitution requires that the state have a balanced budget. For several of the last few years Illinois has had no budget at all and the years of the last decade in which the budget has actually been balanced are few. How can the governor and the legislature get away with it? Nobody seems to have standing to sue them over it—it’s apparently an unenforceable regulation.

In addition Chicago in particular has been sued repeatedly for a variety of criminal conduct—mostly on the part of police. Nobody really believes that the mayor or the Cook County State’s Attorney were not involved but somehow they always get off scot free while the taxpayers are saddled with the bills for the judgments that are handed down.

2 comments… add one
  • bob sykes Link

    Illinois has bad government, because the voters keep choosing it. You cannot have good government with the kind of people who live in Illinois, at least a majority of the regular voters. NYC, MA, and many other communities have the same corrupt citizen problem. In Chicago, Portland, NYC, Seattle, San Fran, et many al., the corrupt citizens are making the communities ungovernable. Your demented, mutant Mayor (rightly called the Groot by Second City Cop) was put in power by corrupt citizens, hundreds of thousands of them.

    The Founders understood the ultimate corruption that democracy brings, and they installed all sorts of anti-democratic firewalls, like the Bill of Rights, the original, State-appointed Senate, and the Supreme Court’s independence. None of that exists in any parliamentary system.

    Chicago is well on its way to becoming a Detroit-style or Baltimore-style jungle. You need to get your family out ASAP.

  • TarsTarkas Link

    Many of the old-time city political machines were as corrupt as they come. Graft, featherbedding, pay-to-play – you name it. You saw all that under the Daleys, Dave. But the machines were always big on keeping the peace. Why? Because taxpayers can live with high levels of corruption, but they can’t live with high levels of violence. Too much violence and they leave or vote for somebody who will restore order.

    That has changed. Too many big cities have been taken over by activists catering to the demographic majorities in their city (yes, I consider the Woke in Portland and other Left Coast cities as a demographic). This results in unaccountable governance, or lack of it, because for all practical purposes the activists can’t be voted out. That’s why homeless has exploded, because the activists through their various Homeless Industrial Complex organizations are profiting off it. The street violence is simply a new addition to their tool kit to stay in power. They’re fine with taxpayers leaving, because they no longer need them for power or money, they just spend as required and push it off to the next administration. And the next, and the next, and the next . . .

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