By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner

Download PDF: Illinois’ crisis: 20 facts Pritzker doesn’t want ordinary Illinoisans to know

There’s no arguing that Illinois is a wreck. But read Deputy Gov. Dan Hynes’ new “budget” report – meant to grease the skids for Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s first budget address – and you might get the impression that former Gov. Bruce Rauner alone caused that wreck. Hynes’ report, “Digging Out: The Rauner Wreckage Report,” says that Rauner ran the state “into a ditch.” His list of complaints against Rauner is long: more deficits, unpaid bills, increased pension costs, higher ed struggles, a social service crisis and more.

We won’t defend Rauner. His four years were a failure, full of blunders, lost opportunities and about-faces. And the Rauner/Madigan impasse certainly made things worse.

But Wirepoints wants to set the record straight. Illinois was a fiscal and economic basket case long before Rauner stepped into the governor’s office. No amount of anti-Rauner rhetoric should let Illinoisans ignore that reality.

Ignoring history – or reframing it as the Pritzker administration wants – makes it impossible to properly diagnose what’s really wrong with Illinois. And far more importantly, it gives Pritzker cover to pursue the same policies that preceded Rauner.

No one should forget how dysfunctional, corrupt and broke Illinois was in the years before 2015.

Two former governors were jailed for corruption just five years apart. Unpaid bills in 2013 had already reached a then-unprecedented $9 billion, wreaking havoc on social service agencies. Multi-billion-dollar budget shortfalls were the norm and Illinois’ $100 billion pension crisis became the nation’s worst. The state was hit with 13 credit downgrades under Gov. Pat Quinn and by 2010, Illinois was already the nation’s lowest-rated state. Worst of all, Illinoisans were leaving in droves. Illinois lost a net one million people to out-migration from 2000 to 2014.

All of which make former Govs. Edgar, Ryan, Blagojevich and Quinn failures, too. And don’t forget House Speaker Mike Madigan. He’s presided over the entire downward slide.

But the Pritzker administration wants Illinois’ crisis to be all about Rauner. We get that – it’s politics as usual to blame the predecessor. But there’s more to it than that. If Pritzker can pin all of the state’s failures on Rauner by leveraging Illinoisans’ strong distaste for the former governor, then Pritzker’s “solutions” a collection of tax hikes, pension bonds and new spending become easier to swallow.

History, however, shows those same policies under previous governors got Illinois into crisis.

Wirepoints offers 20 charts and short commentaries to make our case.


Hynes writes as if deficits, unpaid bills, pension costs and credit downgrades were unique to Rauner as if dysfunction only came along with the budget impasse. The reality is Illinois was already in deep fiscal trouble long before 2015.

1. Unbalanced budgets. The last time the state had a balanced budget? Try 2001, when it finished $300 million in the black.

Since then, it’s been all red ink. State politicians didn’t balance the budget in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014: Thirteen consecutive years of unbalanced budgets before Rauner ever took office. In fact, multi-billion-dollar deficits were the norm from 2008 through 2014.

It’s important to note those deficits are based on the state’s rosy accounting rules. When the true costs of Illinois’ retirement debts are accounted for, the real deficits are billions worse each year.

2. Unpaid bills. In 2013, Illinois’ unpaid bills pile had already reached an embarrassingly high $9 billion25 percent of the annual budget – despite the record 67 percent income tax hike of 2011. In fact, Moody’s cited Illinois’ unpaid bills in its decision to downgrade the state in 2012.

For sure, the Rauner/Madigan impasse led to an absurd level of unpaid bills, but Illinois was already a deadbeat state way before Rauner. (See the impact on social service providers in number 13.)

3. Pension shortfalls. Illinois’ pension shortfall tripled to over $100 billion in the decade before Rauner took office. That was despite the $17 billion in pension obligation bonds and the 2011-2014 tax hike that in total dumped nearly $45 billion into the state pension funds. By 2014, Illinois politicians had already created the nation’s worst pension crisis.

The crisis was so deep that in 2014 Democratic lawmakers and then-Attorney General Lisa Madigan defended pension reform bill SB1 in front of the Illinois Supreme Court. The state argued the severity of the crisis justified the use of emergency powers to override the state’s constitutional pension protection clause.

4. Retiree health insurance debts. Illinois politicians racked another debt over the past few decades by offering state workers free health insurance in retirement. By 2014, the total value of that perk exceeded $53 billion and yet politicians had set aside nothing for this debt. The entire debt is unfunded. (New accounting rules implemented in 2016 pushed up the value of the perk for state workers to $73 billion.)

5. Credit downgrades. Illinois’ deep credit rating slide began in 2009. The state experienced 13 total credit downgrades from the three major rating agencies from 2009 through 2013, all during the Gov. Pat Quinn’s tenure. Five of those downgrades occurred even after the record 67 percent personal income tax hike of 2011. More than $32 billion in new tax revenue from 2011 through 2014 failed to stem the downgrades.

6. Nation’s worst rating. By 2010, Illinois’ credit rating was already the worst in the nation according to Moody’s. And in 2013, S&P declared Illinois was on a “credit precipice” due to lack of pension reform. Illinois’ S&P rating – also the nation’s worst – was lower than California’s, New Jersey’s and Connecticut’s – all famous for their fiscal problems. In contrast, Indiana, Missouri and Iowa were all AAA-rated. Illinois was on its path toward junk way before 2015.


Hynes ignored the fact that many of the cost drivers that made the impasse so painful had accelerated to crisis levels long before Rauner even took office.

7. Growing worker salaries. State AFSCME worker salaries, thanks to their guaranteed contracts, grew more than 40 percent over the 2005-2015 period. In contrast, private sector worker earnings only grew 11 percent, half the rate of inflation. That growth helped push Illinois state government worker pay to the highest in the nation in 2014.

8. Overpromised pensions. Between 2003 and 2015, Illinois lawmakers allowed total pension benefits (accrued liabilities) to grow at the third-fastest pace in the nation. At 7.5 percent a year, Illinois grew its total pension promises at 2.5 times the pace Wisconsin grew its benefits. No amount of taxpayer funding could have kept up with the state’s incredible growth in pension promises.

9. Downstate pension costs. By 2015, cities across the state were in deep pension crises of their own. Public safety pension promises (accrued liabilities) had grown 6.4 percent annually over the previous decade and costs were squeezing virtually every city budget the direct result of state mandates on pensions and collective bargaining laws. Despite a doubling of taxpayer contributions to pensions over the decade, downstate taxpayers watched pension shortfalls double to $10 billion by 2015.

10. University administrative bloat. Illinois’ public universities went on an administrative hiring spree between 2005 and 2015. The number of administrators employed grew by more than 25 percent even as faculty hiring stagnated and enrollment actually shrunk. Illinois’ Senate Democratic Caucus condemned the bloat in a 2015 investigative report: “At the same time tuition and student debt are rising at a breakneck pace, the administrative systems of public institutions have expanded into sprawling behemoths.” (See number 16 for the rise in college tuitions.)

11. Medicaid crowd out. Medicaid costs continued to balloon as the number of Illinoisans enrolled in the program jumped by 60 percent – or more than 1 million people – between 2005 and 2014. As a result, total Medicaid costs grew nearly 2.5 times between 2000 and 2015, from $5.1 billion to $12.3 billion.

Medicaid was originally meant to be a health care safety net for the poor and disadvantaged, but by 2014 it covered 25 percent of the population. That’s crowded out services for the state’s most needy.

12. Too many local bureaucrats. Illinoisans have long been forced to pay for the most units of local government in the country. An excess number of governments, combined with stifling collective bargaining, prevailing wage and pension mandates, had already created municipal crises throughout the state by the time 2015 rolled around.


Illinois politicians failed Illinoisans long before the budget impasse. Their hubris, corruption and mismanagement caused social service providers to close and taxes to reach punishing levels. They allowed pension costs to crowd out spending on everything else. And worst of all, they chased out Illinois’s future: students and families.

13. Struggling social services. Several nonprofits and social service agencies were already closing their doors during the 2009-2013 period due to the state’s nonpayment of bills. The Urban Institute ranked Illinois the nation’s worst for late payments as early as 2009. And virtually every major Illinois newspaper referenced Illinois’ deadbeat status during the period.

Even then-Illinois Comptroller Dan Hynes was featured in a 2010 New York Times article complaining about the $5.1 billion stack of unpaid bills on his desk: “This is not some esoteric budget issue; we are not paying bills for absolutely essential services,” he said. “That is obscene.”

14. Core services crowded out. By 2015, Illinois was already the extreme outlier nationally when it came to retirement costs and budget crowd out. Those costs consumed more than 20 percent of the Illinois’ general budget, crowding out everything from education to health care to infrastructure. In contrast, Illinois’ neighbors, with the exception of Kentucky, used far less than 10 percent of their budgets for retirement costs.

15. Higher ed retirements overwhelm. The university crisis was already in full force by 2014. Students were fleeing the state and tuitions had already jumped, in many cases doubled, since 2005.

All that despite rising appropriations from the state – from $2.5 billion to over $4 billion – over the previous decade. Illinois politicians had done nothing to slow the administrative bloat and the cost of pensions. As a result, retirement costs became a priority over students. By 2014, the state spent more on higher ed retirement costs than it did on general operations.

16. Tuitions spike. Politicians and university officials had made a crisis of higher education long before Rauner came into office. Too many students were already priced out of attending Illinois universities by 2015. Tuitions and fees were pushed up dramatically during the previous decade. Northeastern Illinois University tuition went up 100 percent to more than $12,000. University of Illinois, up 104 percent to nearly $16,000. Even Chicago State tuition jumped by 75 percent.

17. Student flight. Illinois lost a net of 16,500 university students in 2014 alone, the second most in the country according to the New York Times and the Department of Education. In fact, between 2000 and 2014, over 150,000 net college students left Illinois to go to college.

18. Manufacturing jobs collapse. More than 300,000 working and middle class Illinoisans lost their manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2015. Illinois experienced the worst manufacturing jobs recovery since the Great Recession when compared to our neighbors. And the repercussions were wide. Lost property tax revenues were passed to on to homeowners through higher rates. Towns have seen population drops across the state. And private sector incomes were stagnant in the decade from 2006-2015 (See number 7).

19. Property taxes punish. Much of the cost imposed by the failures of Illinois politicians shows up in the yearly property tax bills of Illinoisans across the state. By 2014, Illinoisans already paid the third-highest property taxes in the nation.

And if that wasn’t enough, Illinoisans also paid the 6th-highest overall state and local tax burden in the nation. All for the benefit of having one of the most corrupt and failed governments in the country. And all before the additional negatives of the Rauner/Madigan impasse.

20. Illinoisans leave. Nothing captures the dysfunction of Illinois as well as the data on outmigration does. Illinoisans have been fleeing the state in search of a better environment for years.

In 2014, the year before Rauner took office, Illinois netted a then-record loss of 95,000 residents. That capped a net loss of more than 1 million residents since the turn of the century. At 7.8 percent, Illinois was the nation’s third-biggest loser of residents to outmigration when measured as a percentage of population. Only New York and New Jersey fared worse.

Download PDF: Illinois’ crisis: 20 facts Pritzker doesn’t want ordinary Illinoisans to know




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1 year ago

Illinois has been in a downward spiral for many years. I grew up in what was farm country (no longer) in the 50’s and 60’s. Went in the service and came back because I always thought Illinois was a great state. I went to college at U of Chicago on the GI bill for 2 years until I transferred out to a western state college. In the 3 years I lived here before I left I lived in Chicago and saw so much corruption, graft, patronage, and bad governance, I said goodby. 36 years later I returned to spend time… Read more »

1 year ago
Reply to  Strider51

Wow. Thank you for that, and all the best to you.

Andrew Szakmary
1 year ago

Obviously the state’s problems precede Rauner – as many have documented, the pensions have been underfunded for decades. But virtually all of your charts that contain a time series element showing things prior to and during the Rauner era, whether budget balance, outmigration, college student enrollment, etc. show that these things got even worse under Rauner, at least until a few courageous Republicans helped approve a budget and a restoration of previous income tax rates over Rauner’s veto. How about giving the new governor, who just won in a landslide, a chance to govern?

1 year ago

The core problem is Illinois government itself. Taxes enable it. So Andrew, let me ask you this. “Is the new gov planning to raise or lower taxes?”

1 year ago

Rauner’s biggest problem was fighting Madigan, who has been there through it all. Let’s point the finger at Madigan where it belongs. If Pritzker gets along with Madigan, they’ll probably be able to totally bankrupt the state.

Tired citizen
1 year ago

My eyes are on moving to Missouri.
Its not going to get better. I’m sick of the finger pointing. That s not fixing the problem.

Rita E Gorra
1 year ago

So, cutting to the chase, we are blaming Pritzker for everything that happened before? We know it’s a mess. Let’s give him a chance. Like I did with our liar in chief.

Hank Scorpio
1 year ago
Reply to  Rita E Gorra

I don’t think you read the article…

He does however deserve criticism for saying pension reform is off the table while also promising MORE spending. It has nothing to do with what color tie he wears — Rauner obviously failed to bring about reform (though not all his fault, see Madigan). Math does not care which way you vote. My best guess is they are banking on a federal bailout.

1 year ago
Reply to  Rita E Gorra

Rita, the article was clear, well written, and well documented. Your comment …. not so much.

Kevin Daniels
1 year ago

seems likely that Madigan orchestrated the Rauner election knowing that he could stifle Rauner at every turn, stonewall him on budgets and reform, and then install his own Democratic choice four years later. That enabled him and his cabal to create the perception that Rauner caused this mess as opposed to the 30+ years with Madigan at the helm. Pritzker gets in and following the Madigan script, he blames the whole mess on Rauner, and somehow did it with a straight face. Unfortunately, way too many people just believe the last thing they read or heard, so the Rauner lie… Read more »

1 year ago

Well I sure wish the politicians would work for the people who elected them and not Madigan.

1 year ago

Language is important when speaking to the general population of voters. I have spent time discussing these issues with my neighbors. I like my neighbors and I believe that I have carefully listened to their point of view. Most have No comprehension of large numbers (like billions) and believe that taxing to the rich will solve the issues of financing. When questioned directly without rebuking their position; they believe that Free Health Care is Free, so give it to them, is their belief. If young enough they believe that printing more money will solve every issue! (Absolutely NO idea how… Read more »

s & p 500
1 year ago

I highly recommend 3 movies for an insight on how the govt. works. “Widows”, ” Vice”, and “The Favorite”. There is also a great “American Greed” about Ray Nagin on you-tube. Or watch the 1949 “All the Kings’ Men” again. There was a sensational article in the WSJ about older Americans with student loan debt. USC has had a tremendous amount of construction recently and the campus is amazing. No wonder it costs $50,000 a year. What do you do if your kid wants to go to USC instead of Cal-State LA ?? You’re in big trouble.

Tired and moving
1 year ago
Reply to  s & p 500

Unfortunately, Vice was silly political propaganda. Like getting your opinion from one of the Kardashians.

1 year ago

I moved out of Illinois in October of 2017. I lost a fortune on selling my house in Illinois. Bought a home in Utah worth twice as much and pay 2/3 less taxes, very little crime, no corruption and beautiful scenery. Also my son enrolled at the University of Utah. A modern campus and 1/2 the cost of Illinois State Universities. Move out of Illinois fast. All that will remain are those who work for the government, teachers and those on government support. It a shame what happened to this once great State.

1 year ago

Ted, John— all rauner had to do when he was in office was to hire you guys, publish this report and put it out on a web site using his mega $ bucks/ and bully pulpet to take it to the voters… cant understand why he never did?? The machine depends on 2 things; idiot voters, and using governers past ot present as scape goats.

1 year ago

You’d think a guy who backed the Illinois Holocaust Museum might remember a post WW2 publication called Pravda. This report could have been produced by Pravda.

1 year ago

15. Higher ed pensions overwhelm: Is the red bar the ARC or what the state actually paid into the system?

1 year ago
Reply to  nixit

It’s what the state actually paid into the system. It would be far worse if they paid what they were supposed to.

1 year ago
Reply to  Ted Dabrowski

Wondering how those numbers tie to the SURS CAFR: For 2015:

– Page 18 > Financial Highlights: “Contributions from the state and employers were $1,590.9 million” ($1.5B)
– Page 84 > Schedule of Employer Contributions > Net ER ADC: $1,590.9 million ($1.5B)
– Your chart: A little over $2B. Looks like most of your numbers are maybe $500M higher than the CAFR.

Not sure I’m reading this right. The fact that the CAFR has a column titled “Actual ER Contributions” that doesn’t match what they said was the actual contribution made is a bit confusing too.

1 year ago

If you add in the cost of college living expenses, then you can see what the total burden is on the parents and students to finance an education in IL. I know that you have stated the State of IL debt many times before, perhaps you might want to insert it here since every other expense that I can think of was included in this all-encompassing article. It’s not just one factor or cost to deal with. I keep thinking about when 1) nobody loans IL money, and 2) enough taxpayers leave so that the revenue drops precipitously – any… Read more »

Brice Hutton
1 year ago

You guys are awesome. The truth! So helpful!

The Captain
1 year ago

When will the Congress authorize states such as Illinois to declare bankruptcy and rework its financial obligations? All interested parties will need to take a hair cut in order for the state to survive in the 21st century.

dan hinton
1 year ago

if you go back to Thompson era that’s when it started.

1 year ago

Excellent article, thank you! Do politicians like to blame their predecessor for their problems? Yes. And Obammy was a prime example. But here, it all boils down the fact that JB Shitzger is a Democrat and Rauner is a Republican. Facts, figures and the truth like you did an excellent job of compiling are just an annoyance to liberal Democrats when they want to push forward their narrative.

1 year ago

Fantastically sickening–thank you!!!