By: Mark Glennon*
You’d think Gov. JB Pritzker would start worrying about being branded as entirely unserious, partisan and dishonest about Illinois’ problems. Consider what he said in a Wednesday video press briefing about population loss and a potential federal bailout.
Pritzker was asked about the seventh straight year of shrinking Illinois population announced Tuesday by the Census Bureau. “To what do you attribute the decline?” was included in the question.
Rauner. Former Governor Bruce Rauner. Pritzker added nothing else.
No, Governor, the reasons comprise a catalog of incompetence, corruption and malfeasance extending decades back, perpetrated by members of both parties but primarily by your own, the consequences of which take years to show up. Illinoisans know that, and you are succeeding only in convincing them that you think partisan deceit is a viable alternative to facts.
Pritzker is enabled by a press corps that’s often as unserious as he is. As usual, no follow-up questions were attempted or allowed on Wednesday, a routine they sheepishly accept.
In fact, Pritzker seems to have followed the lead of Greg Hinz by using the same deceitful wording Hinz used Tuesday to blame Rauner for the population loss. Hinz is the Crain’s political reporter/commentator. (There’s supposed to be a difference, but that’s another story.)
Specifically, Pritzker said Illinois has been “losing population for seven of last ten years, and for most of that under Gov. Bruce Rauner people had lost faith in state government and getting things done.” Hinz had blamed Rauner in the same way. Dismissing other reasons for the population decline, Hinz wrote that “most of the drop occurred during the tenure of former Gov. Bruce Rauner.” It might be literally true that Rauner was in office for four of those seven years, but to pin the consequences of years of earlier failures on him, whatever his blunders were, is simply dishonest.**
Pritkzer wasn’t through. When asked about the delay in a federal relief bill for state and local governments, he made an an astonishingly partisan and dishonest claim. He said about half of Congressional Republicans won’t vote for “any” state and local help, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Nobody in the press has yet called him out on that, either, but here are some facts:
- The earlier CARES Act passed both the House and Senate unanimously and gave $150 billion to state and local governments, much of which remains unspent and unaccounted for. Trillions more that indirectly helped the state were authorized with bipartisan votes.
- Congressional Republicans made several new proposals over the last few months containing state and local relief of as much as $300 billion in new money.
- And just this week, the Omnibus Spending Bill passed the House and Senate with overwhelming, bipartisan majorities. It includes an extremely generous $82 billion for schools and $14 billion for regional transit. McConnell voted for it and only six Republican senators dissented from the 5,000-page, pork-filled monstrosity.
Denial and partisan dishonesty rule in Illinois.
*Mark Glennon is founder of Wirepoints.
**For those of you who might believe that Rauner caused most of Illinois’ problems, reproduced below is a summary we did in February 2019 on how things stood when Rauner took office:
Start by looking at what Pritzker’s own party said before Rauner became governor.
The state’s crisis was already severe enough to override the constitutional pension protection clause under the “police power” doctrine, something historically used in only extraordinary circumstances. Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan argued that position in 2014. Only benefit cuts, not tax increases, could work, she told the Illinois Supreme Court in defending SB 1, a law that would have cut some pension benefits.
She cited express legislative findings saying the same—findings made when Democrats held supermajorities in both houses of the General Assembly. “The fiscal problems facing the state and its retirement systems cannot be solved without making some changes to the structure of the retirement systems.” (Emphasis added.)
Today, that’s all off the table. No changes to pension benefits are needed, Pritzker says. And he won’t consider a constitutional amendment to override the court’s ruling invalidating SB 1.
Consider these additional facts about where we stood before Rauner took office:
- Illinois’ negative Total Primary Government Net Position—basically, its negative net worth—had dropped by a staggering $106 billion from 2006 to 2015, reaching negative $121 billion.
- The state’s unfunded pension obligations tripled from $35 billion in 2003 to $105 billion the year before Rauner took over.
- State budgets had never balanced since 2001, even under the state’s phony budget accounting that ignores growing debt.
- Rating agencies had issued 13 credit downgrades on the state since 2009. Illinois’ credit rating was already the nation’s worst.
- Illinois’ population loss, now five years running, had already begun.
- The state’s unpaid bill backlog was about $6.6 billion and had already begun ticking back up, despite the temporary tax increase then in place.
- Social service providers were already reeling. Illinois ranked No. 1 in the country in the percentage of nonprofit groups facing payment delays, an Urban Institute survey found. “We are basically bankrolling the state. It’s a ridiculous situation,” said one provider. “It’s just absolutely awful and there seems to be no end in sight.”
None of this is to excuse Rauner. He was incompetent in many ways. The budget impasse indeed caused lasting damage to the state, and Rauner handled it horribly. Much of the Digging Out report is true—as far as it goes.
But it’s grossly incomplete. By blaming everything on Rauner and the budget impasse, the report hides the reality that our problems are structural, systemic and old. Our model of government is fundamentally broken. We simply aren’t generating the growth, employment and resulting tax base needed to meet the promises we have made and deliver the basic services Illinoisans expect. Rauner inherited that. Pritzker inherited that.
The 2015-17 budget impasse was resolved when Democrats got the solution they had demanded all along: a tax increase with no reforms.