Governor Pat Quinn will deliver the State of the State speech to the Illinois General Assembly tomorrow. Good luck Mr. Governor.
Sure the Governor can talk about the mighty Land of Lincoln with its abundant natural resources and the dynamism of Metropolitan Chicago. Of course he can play up the airports, highways, rail lines and Chicago's world class colleges and universities. It is easy to win brownie points when you talk about the Illinois tourist "engine that could."
I suspect Gov. Quinn will spend most of his time talking about all those natural advantages Illinoisans enjoy.
He will not spend nearly as much time discussing how Illinois politicians have squandered these advantages that were once thought to be untouchable, producing numbers like these:
- Illinois's unemployment rate has grown more in the past 12 months than any other state in the nation, currently at 9.8%.
- Illinois unemployment averaged 9.4% throughout 2011.
- 647,300 Illinoisans are currently out of work.
- Illinois' credit rating is either the worst or second worst among all 50 states depending on which agency you trust the most.
- Illinois ended FY2011 with $8.3 billion in unpaid bills, including $1.2 billion for state employee health insurance and owing primary and secondary school districts $1.13 billion and universities $584 million. Illinois owes more than $5 billion in back pay to vendors and service providers alone.
- Illinois's FY 2011 Operating Budget deficit eclipsed $4 billion, while more than $5.4 billion was borrowed to cover costs, including the state pension contribution.
- Comparing Dec 2011 to Dec 2010, the Illinois Labor Force dropped by 42,000 workers, there are 34,000 more unemployed people and the unemployment rate grew by 0.6% while the national unemployment numbers dropped 0.9%.
The state raised income taxes by 66% and corporate taxes by 46% and while it has helped stave off an immediate meltdown, the new revenue has done little to remedy the long term pension and health care costs the state faces. There is evidence that the tax increase has actually hurt economic growth in the state, thus exacerbating existing budget problems and chronic unemployment. Studies from the Illinois Policy Institute have shown that tax paying residents are leaving Illinois for both southern states as well as neighboring Midwestern states. Thus, the new tax revenue may be tempered over time by reductions in the number of residents paying income and sales taxes as well as the drop in taxable business income that usually accompanies exoduses.
I suppose it is much easier to lay out the problems and point fingers than it is to propose comprehensive solutions.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and Ohio Gov. John Kasich were not afraid to embark on the first steps of major fiscal reform in their states. They pointed the finger directly at organized labor, took on that establishment of entitlement and pushed for reforms that will pay dividends for generations to come.
I have no illusions that Gov. Quinn or the Democratic hegemony in Springfield will take on special interest unions for serious concessions. That is simply not possible in the Illinois House, where Democrat members can't win without the money and volunteer power of organized labor. The Illinois Senate is a bit easier to navigate for reform if only because Republicans make up a larger percentage of the members than they do in the House.
Years of terrible fiscal policy, political corruption, union influence and global economic realities have painted Illinois into an ugly corner. The total lack of political courage and leadership in Springfield is making that reality darker every day. State debt is growing, unemployment is high and future prospects are dim with surrounding states now engaged in active competition with Illinois for new residents and businesses.
Thus this year's State of the State of Illinois is sad. We are beyond the point of angry or frustrated. The Blago trial pretty much sapped us all of that energy. Now it's just a dim malaise.
A lame duck Governor who lacks leadership ability.
A disengaged Speaker of the Illinois House.
A place holder State Senate President.
Sad. Just sad.
Illinois deserves so much better.