By: Ted Dabrowski and John Klingner
Illinois’ current lame duck session and the subsequent gathering of the new General Assembly should be consequential, perhaps one of the most consequential in the history of the state. After all, lawmakers haven’t met since May, and needless to say, a lot has happened since then. Here’s a short list:
- The state legislature has shunned its responsibilities for nearly ten months, letting Gov. J.B. Pritzker run Illinois’ pandemic response by executive order the entire time.
- Lawmakers have done nothing to deal with the state’s $4 billion official deficit, never mind the far larger deficit when the state’s true retirement costs are considered.
- The potential of a junk-rating for Illinois has jumped as a result of the virus’ impact on state revenues.
- Yearly pension costs – now at a record $10.5 billion – are crowding out even more of the budget.
- Illinois’ population shrank even more as the state dropped another 80,000 residents, its seventh straight year of population losses.
- Michael Madigan’s role as Speaker is hanging by a thread, the result of the ComEd corruption scandal.
- Too many of Illinois’ schools are still closed to in-person learning and too much of the state’s economy is still on lock down. The list goes on and on…
There’s so much at stake you’d think lawmakers would act with urgency to help Illinoisans struggling under the weight of lockdowns and the state’s general malgovernance.
Don’t count on it. This legislative session will likely be full of drama, but little substance. We would like nothing more than to be proved wrong, but that is what we fear will occur.
For one, nothing is likely to happen regarding Illinois’ budget deficit. The outcome of the U.S. Senate elections in Georgia – with Democrats now fully in charge – has dramatically deflated any pressure for action by the Illinois legislature. State lawmakers will now wait and see how much money Congress sends Illinois as part of a state and local aid package before they take any real action on the budget.
The credit rating agencies will also wait to act on any potential downgrades. They’re unlikely to reach a decision on Illinois until they know the size of any aid package and how much pressure it relieves.
Two, don’t expect the legislature – meaning Speaker Madigan – to restore the rule of law by stripping Gov. Pritzker of his executive orders. We’re ten months into this pandemic and there’s plenty of evidence that Pritzker’s rule by executive fiat has made things worse.
We can only guess that Madigan prefers to let Pritzker own the response to the COVID pandemic. After all, Madigan had the chance to take back control when the legislature last convened last May, but didn’t.
Three, expect any fair maps proposal to go nowhere. Illinois’ political leadership will simply ignore the plan as they’ve done in the past.
Four, don’t expect anything to come out of the legislature that resembles a real plan to fix the state. Illinoisans needed massive structural spending reforms even before the pandemic, and the lockdowns have only made everything worse. The state’s job and business losses have been extreme, taxes across the state continue to rise, and Illinois’ official pension debt hit a record $144 billion this year, though Moody’s says the more realistic state shortfall has jumped to $261 billion. And Illinois continues to lose people at a terrible rate.
But nobody in the legislature has crafted a plan to get Illinosans out of this misery. No, we’re not talking about the short-term fixes and gimmicks to plug one-year budget holes. We’re talking about a real 5-7 year plan – including structural pension reform – that fixes Illinois’ problems once and for all.
Instead of a plan, Madigan is focusing on what matters most to him: getting reelected as Speaker. Step number one for him is affirming his worth to the Black Caucus by getting their sweeping criminal justice reform bill passed.
We won’t go into the details of the legislation here – it tackles a host of issues related to law enforcement. For now, just know it’s a key part of Madigan’s strategy for remaining in power.
One note of irony is related to another piece of legislation in play: a bill that grants the Chicago Teachers Union more power over contract negotiations with CPS. Currently, the CTU is officially limited to bargaining over only salaries and benefits during contract negotiations. The bill would expand the union’s bargaining ability to a host of other non-monetary issues. (Note that the bargaining limitations did nothing to stop the union from striking three times in the last decade.)
Conversely, the Black Caucus’ reform bill would strip police unions of their ability to bargain over anything other than salaries and benefits.
That exchange just about sums up the absurdity of Illinois politics.
To read more from Wirepoints on the topic:
- Nobody has a plan to fix the state
- Pritzker criminalizes violators of his shutdown order using his own rule-making power
- Warren Buffet is right to warn about Illinois: The state’s true retirement costs now total 50% of annual state budget
- New 2020 Census shows Illinois population shrinks for 7th year in a row: Six facts you should know.
- Wirepoints Pension Solutions