Yes, Illinois is worth saving, and it’s time to get started already.
I think if you listened carefully to both of Gov. Pat Quinn’s major public speeches this month, his State of the State address and his annual budget address, that’s the message you’re left with.
Illinois has had a rough run over the past dozen years or so, much of it self-inflicted.
First, there was the George Ryan saga, which landed him in prison. While he was still in office, though, Illinois took a big hit when an already-faltering national economy tumbled after the 9/11 attacks.
Then came Rod Blagojevich, who made things worse. He racked up bills that we still haven’t paid. He declared war on Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, and the resulting bloodbath led to two of the most counterproductive years in Illinois legislative history. It culminated with Blagojevich’s arrest, impeachment and removal from office, all of which happened during the most severe international economic collapse since the Great Depression.
By the time the dust settled, Statehouse denizens looked around and finally noticed that the whole world had literally fallen apart around them.
Attempts were made to address the crisis. An infrastructure program was enacted to help put folks back to work, for example.
But the state’s ever-growing budget problems were allowed to fester amid political paralysis. It didn’t help that the newly elevated Gov. Quinn just didn’t seem up to the task.
Quinn and the Democratic legislative leaders made a valiant attempt to stanch the red ink last year with an income tax increase, but it wasn’t nearly enough. And despite some cuts, this year’s budget is $2.4 billion out of balance with billions more in overdue, unpaid bills and skyrocketing Medicaid and pension costs.
While all this was going on, Republican governors throughout the country were ridiculing Illinois and promising to take companies away.
Quinn was slammed for his “too optimistic” State of the State address in early February. Quinn was trying, I think, to instill a bit of self-confidence so that we’d want to rescue our own future.
But after years of enduring seemingly intractable problems, Illinoisans have become adept at self-hate. We don’t want to hear about the positives.
Quinn’s budget address on Wednesday struck a chord with quite a lot of people. He finally demonstrated that he understood the huge budget problems facing Illinois and might even be up to the task of bringing all sides together to kick this state into gear.
Medicaid is too often seen by politicians as a tool to help friends. Democrats want the support of people who can’t afford health insurance and Republicans want to keep their backing from doctors, dentists, hospitals, nursing homes and other providers.
Nobody really wants to change anything. But Quinn demanded a solution, laid out a road map and threatened to keep the General Assembly in session throughout the summer if necessary. Let’s hope he sticks to his guns.
The pension payment schedule crafted in the 1990s put off tough choices and most investment for almost 20 years, skyrocketed the system’s unfunded liabilities, and is now seriously harming the state’s ability to fund other programs. Quinn said all reform ideas would be on the table and pledged a solution this year.
Basically, we need to pick ourselves up, stop acting like a bunch of losers and actually fix the damned problems here. I really hope Quinn is up to it, because this is the challenge of a lifetime.
I have to run out of the office for a bit, so chew on this until I get back. Thanks.