Which is it? 1) The sky isn’t falling and there’s nothing a tax increase won’t fix, or 2) The sky is falling but it’s all because of the budget impasse which was entirely Governor Rauner’s fault.
For Illinois Democrats, it’s both. You see one or the other in virtually every communication they put out.
The first one is old, though they still use it. Senate President John Cullerton said four years ago there’s “no crisis” with Illinois pensions, earning him national derision. Watch this funny video collage of House Speaker Michael Madigan’s use of the word “moderate” about any action we need to take. Today, I can think no aspect of our fiscal mess they think wouldn’t be solved by higher taxes. It goes for much of the press, too, especially influential columnist Rich Miller, a public union mouthpiece who ridicules realists incessantly.
But with Rauner in office for three years we’ve seen the entirely predictable shift towards blaming him. The budget impasse indeed contributed to Illinois’ problems and since it occurred on Rauner’s watch, well….
The truth is that Democrats — Cook County Democrats, to be precise — bear most of the blame. It was evident that Illinois was broke as early as 2002 but nothing was done. Before Rauner arrived on the scene the numbers already were insurmountable. I laid those numbers out in a November 2012 article linked here.
That’s the key period, from 2002 to 2012. The gathering, catastrophic storm gradually became apparent yet nothing was done. Democrats during that period controlled both houses of the General Assembly and the governorship. Democrats in leadership positions were all from Cook County, as they are today.
Certain Republicans definitely share blame. Specifically, old guard Republicans like Jim Edgar, former House Minority Leader Christine Radogno and Senate Minority Leader Jim Durkin were asleep at the switch as the state sank. No leading Republican ever had the courage to stand up to pubic unions until Rauner came along, and some rank-and-filers are as beholden to public unions as typical Democrats.
And Rauner clearly deserves part of the blame. I’ve been particularly harsh on him here simply because he’s inept, and dishonesty has permanently crippled his credibility. He could have handled the budget impasse much better. Democrats, however, did far worse. The budget, to them, meant nothing but a huge tax increase with no reforms.
Maybe Democrats won’t bother to settle on one of their themes over the other. Illinois voters probably won’t be bothered by the facts or by the contradiction, Democrats may figure. Given their voting record, there’s every reason to fear they will vote like sheep for Cook County Democratic wolves who are ripping at their limbs with two faces.
-Mark Glennon is founder and Executive Editor of Wirepoints. Opinions expressed are his own.