By: Ted Dabrowski, Mark Glennon and John Klingner
Gov. J.B. Pritzker has a narrative he wants Illinoisans to believe. “The narrative about Illinois,” he said at the Chicago Economic Club, “is that we are a state on the rise. That we’ve had our challenges, that’s for sure. That we were going in the wrong direction, but we are turning the ship in the right direction, and we are powering ourselves forward.”
And during Wednesday’s State of the State he added, “I’m here to tell the carnival barkers, the doomsayers, the paid professional critics – the State of our State is growing stronger each day.”
But Pritzker is mistaken to think Illinoisans will buy false optimism. Pritzker hasn’t passed or promoted a single structural spending or governance reform that justifies his narrative. He’s categorically rejected a pension amendment. His property tax commission can’t put together a coherent report. He has refused to change the spending patterns in the state. And he’s not going to convince anybody that his tough talk about corruption is real unless he tells House Speaker Michael Madigan to hit the road.
With nothing to back him up, the governor is asking Illinoisans to simply ignore the reality they are living in – that taxes are too high, services are being crowded out, real home values continue to fall, and that residents are leaving at a record pace.
And as for the “doomsayers,” they’re only relating what Illinoisans and people, businesses and organizations across the country already know: that Illinois is a national outlier. Most are simply reporting the winners and losers across the country, and Illinois is consistently the loser:
– U.S. News and World Report concluded Illinois is the worst state in the nation for “fiscal stability,” while states like Tennessee and Indiana are named two of the best.
– Kiplinger called Illinois the least tax-friendly state in the nation. Wyoming is the most-friendly.
– WalletHub reported that Illinoisans face the highest tax burden of any state in the nation.
– Moody’s reports that Illinois’ finances justify a position that’s one notch above junk, the lowest in the nation, while confirming the AAA-credit rating of states like Indiana.
– GOBankingRates warned that nine Illinois cities are among the top 50 housing markets in the nation that are “turning ugly.”
– S&P and Census data show Illinois and Chicago’s real home prices have fallen even as the property values in neighboring states have grown three to six times more.
– The Financial Times asked whether it’s Illinois, New Jersey or California that will be the “next Italy” and warned that state insolvency may be a systemic risk to the entire country.
– Former FDIC Chairman William Isaac, a leading insolvency expert and a Democrat, who wrote three years ago that both Illinois and Chicago should already have been in some form of bankruptcy proceeding.
– John Diedrich, global head of investments for CA Ventures, told the Chicago Tribune that the state’s inability to accurately project future property taxes was “one strike too many” for major investors such as pension funds and insurance companies looking to invest in states.
– Warren Buffett basically told businesses to stay the heck out of Illinois. Clearly referring to states like ours, he said: “If I were relocating into some state that had a huge unfunded pension plan I’m walking into liabilities…I’ll be here for the life of the pension plan and they will come after corporations, they’ll come after individuals.”
– Michael Newman, president of Chicago developer Golub, said in Crain’s “I spend every day talking with capital partners and trying to sell them on (new projects in) Chicago, and this has been the most challenging time that I can remember.”
– The Wall Street Journal, referring to Illinois’ “inevitable financial collapse,” said the state is “trying to pull off a circus to improve its financial position,” and ran a story this month saying “Chicago Property Prices Stagnate, Trail Even Crisis-Stricken Hong Kong.”
Does Pritzker really think these are all political hacks, paid professional critics and carnival barkers? Are he and his advisers not reading these things? Doesn’t he know that these organizations’ predictions have turned to actual observations?
But it’s more than just about the observations of outside media, organizations and companies. Pritzker is dismissing the experiences of ordinary people who live Illinois’ reality every day.
It’s our neighbors, relatives, friends and business associates who left this state for a better life.
It’s people like Tanya Wellmaker who left Collinsville, Illinois in 2012 for better opportunities in entrepreneur-friendly Atlanta.
It’s the former mayor of Lakewood, Paul Serwatka, who took his young family to booming northern Alabama.
It’s our former neighbor, who left Wilmette after calculating he could amass $1 million over 20 years by simply leaving Illinois and its sky-high property taxes for low-cost Colorado.
And it’s people like Don and Paula Parker, fixed income seniors who will be forced to leave Illinois if taxes go any higher.
There’s no denying Gov. Pritzker has brought “harmony” to state government. Gone are the stalemate and infighting of the past four years.
But gone with the rancor and dysfunction is any sense of fiscal realism. Instead, Pritzker is pitching a distorted reality.
The governor is asking Illinoisans not just to shun the experts and common citizens like those above, but to deny what they are seeing and hearing with their own eyes and ears.
It won’t work.