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I gotta get outta this place

Friday, Jun 22, 2012

* My Sun-Times column

Off and on for the past few years, I’ve tried to defend Illinois’ honor against the crazier attacks by outsiders while still candidly acknowledging that this state has some real problems which absolutely must be solved.

That ain’t easy, to say the least.

Ever since Barack Obama was elected president, his enemies have been trying to highlight Illinois’ truly awful problems to somehow taint his administration. A big target was put on our backs, and far too many of our neighboring Republican governors have been way too eager to play along with this stupid game.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, in particular, have delighted in overstating our problems to make themselves look better back home. Walker constantly painted Illinois as the bogeyman during his recall attempt. Daniels compared us to “The Simpsons” TV show. Both have repeatedly vowed to poach businesses and jobs from us, which didn’t really work, but the two got a whole lot of media attention, and that was the point.

I now know what it must have been like for family members to constantly feel the need to defend the beer-swilling, trouble-making Billy Carter or the beer-swilling, trouble-making Roger Clinton after their far more responsible brothers were elected president. He’s blood, so you gotta step up. But, man, you just wish he’d check himself into rehab, buy some presentable clothes and get a real job for once.

Believe it or not, there really are signs that the people running this state finally understand that we can’t keep operating the way we have been. But it took so long for that message to sink in that we’re way behind almost every other state. And I’m still not convinced that we won’t somehow relapse.

Almost all the money from last year’s huge income tax increase has been sucked up by pension payments, which got so high because the state has never put enough cash into the systems.

Doing the responsible thing and making the full pension payments meant that the state hasn’t been able to pay down billions of dollars of overdue bills and this year was forced to slash money for health care and education and close prisons even though the corrections system is already overcrowded.

While a good chunk of those past-due bills will be paid off this year, and while a severe Medicaid-funding crisis appears to have been resolved by making painful cuts and raising the cigarette tax, pension payments are projected to grow so much that our precarious, horrible credit rating is under serious threat.

Gov. Pat Quinn met with the four legislative leaders Thursday to try once again to hammer out a deal on public employee pension reform.

Quinn claimed that each day of delay meant $12.6 million was added to the pension funds’ unfunded liability.

No agreement was reached.

Instead, the two Republican legislative leaders insisted that the always intractable school-funding issue be put on the table with the seemingly intractable pension issue. No further meetings are scheduled until August.

Also on Thursday, Illinois’ auditor general reported that the state government has a deficit of almost $44 billion — worst in the nation.

After I read the auditor general’s report, I started researching quiet, peaceful, inexpensive getaways. Enough, already.

As much as I hate to admit it, I have to get out of this state. I don’t know yet when I can go, and my plans certainly won’t include Wisconsin or Indiana, but I really need to leave Illinois and all its troubles behind for a little while.

* Here’s the graph that made me start looking for a quiet, peaceful vacation destination. Illinois is the longest red bar. The graph is from the “Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR) and Related Report on Internal Control and Compliance for the Period Ending June 30, 2011″

* SJ-R

The state’s overall deficit climbed to nearly $44 billion last year, easily the worst in the nation, the Illinois auditor general reported Thursday.

The red ink grew by 16.8 percent in a single year, Auditor General William Holland said.

The new report includes all of Illinois’ assets and liabilities and gives a broader picture of the state’s financial condition than simply reviewing the annual budget.

With no cash available, more state payments were late and for larger amounts, the audit found. Illinois ended the fiscal year with $4.7 billion in unpaid bills. The state fell further behind in paying tax refunds. Bookkeeping was slow and disorganized.

* From a press release

Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka on Thursday released the following statement regarding her office’s State of Illinois Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. The report details the financial condition of the State at the end of the last fiscal year on June 30, 2011:

“Our latest financial report shows that Illinois’ deficit has doubled in the last five years to more than $43 billion. It provides yet another cautionary note that we need to rein in spending and address the growing costs that are devouring the state budget. Positive steps were taken this year toward getting our financial house in order, but we clearly still have a long way to go to fully clean up this colossal mess.”

- Posted by Rich Miller        

  1. - Patty T - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:28 am:

    That was last year’s report. This fiscal year is over in a little over a week. Wonder what FY12 brings - it seems the action taken is just too late to be effective.

  2. - Casual observer - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:30 am:

    We just got back from Pigeon Forge Tenn. had a secluded cabin on the river and it was spectacular. And it’s only a 10 hour drive.

  3. - just sayin' - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:31 am:

    I sense this Friday’s video selection, that song,

    “We gotta get outta this place….if it’s the last thing we ever do…..”

  4. - Raising Kane - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:33 am:

    This audit is of FY11, FY12 ends June 30th of this year and FY13 begins July 1. Progress has been made but your right, it may be too little, too late.

  5. - Kerfuffle - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:33 am:

    rich If you are really looking for someplace peaceful try the Portland, OR area - the Columbia Gorge is spectacular along with the numerous waterfalls that feed the river. Mt. Hood and snow are a short drive as is Cannon Beach and the Pacific Ocean.

  6. - Doug - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:35 am:

    Come on down to the state with the biggest line to the right!

  7. - One of the 35 - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:39 am:

    Rich: While I understand your dislike for Wisconsin, it is a little cooler up here this time of year. The Kettle Moraine area is really scenic and about as far away from city congestion and politics as it can be.

  8. - WhyMe - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:41 am:

    Can’t we just leave the Euro and go back to the Drachma?

  9. - Anonymous - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:41 am:

    I am very, very far from a Quinn fan. But I think he really deserves serious credit for his recent efforts to right the fiscal ship. Sure, he waited too long to do it. But his publicly attempting is shaming his party leaders into action and highlighting how little the Republican leaders are willing to walk the walk after talking the talk.

    I fear that he will fail. But I am happy that he is at least forcing the issue.

  10. - Leave a Light on George - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:43 am:

    I suspect this post has more to do with the Sox/Cards, Sox/Cubs and you welching on bets than the state’s financial disarray!

  11. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:45 am:

    ===and you welching on bets ===

    I never not pay off my bets. Ever. It’s gonna cost me a few bucks, but I’ll pay off this one.

  12. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:45 am:

    And, yes, I’m well aware that this report is for FY 11.

  13. - mark walker - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:47 am:

    Rich: Good for you.

    It’s only because you know the facts, understand the problems, care about Illinois, and don’t take refuge in simplistic solutions, that you need a break to refresh.

    Why is JBT always so rational and fair in her public statements, while her party colleagues cannot follow suit?

  14. - lake county democrat - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:51 am:

    A small vindication to those of us non-GOP’ers who have been making the same warnings for years only to be decried as humorless cranks (which we are, but we’re still right). But Rich, not to make you feel bad, but if you read that CIA-funded 2020 report and other literature I mentioned a few weeks ago you may conclude you need to expand your horizons.

  15. - Plutocrat03 - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 10:51 am:

    Minnesota hasn’t been mean to Illinois has it? They have some really nice lakes up there.

    I’m going where I can get the best beer, cheese and chocolate in the wold. urp

  16. - lake county democrat - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:05 am:

    Minnesota along route 61 is beautiful, Iowa City is pretty nice, rural Michigan scares the bejeebees out of me (for that matter urban Michigan too).

    Sorry for the multiple posts - shutting up now.

  17. - SO IL M - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:11 am:

    I just booked a room in Tunica for Sunday. Join us.

  18. - wordslinger - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:12 am:

    Dude, when you’re at the end of your rope, just hang on.

  19. - SO IL M - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:14 am:

    Oh wait….you are one of those people from Chicago Im supposed to hate arent you.

    Oh what the hell…when we get to MS we are all yankees.

  20. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:15 am: are one of those people from Chicago Im supposed to hate===


    Born Downstate, live Downstate.

  21. - Been There - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:19 am:

    ===But, man, you just wish he’d check himself into rehab, buy some presentable clothes and get a real job for once.===

    Is this your brother talking about you?

  22. - SO IL M - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:19 am:

    Yeah but I had to throw that in. It served its purpose and made you smile about this whole crazy week for a minute

  23. - Southern Peggy R - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:28 am:

    I do give Quinn credit for taking this on.

    We’re heading to Black Hills…before Sturgis

  24. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:28 am:

    ===Dude, when you’re at the end of your rope, just hang on===

    Don’t forget to tie a knot at the end of the rope either, that makes it easier to hang on. Which means, don’t give up hope.

    Take a trip to Galena or go an overnight Mississippi river cruise. Bring your boat to Lake Shelbyville or Carlye or Murphysboro. Come up to Medinah for the Ryder Cup. Come to Chicago treat yourself to a meal at one (or all of) the city’s five star restaraunts (Charlie Trotter is a foodie’s nirvana). Hitch a ride to Mackinac Island during the race.

    I think now is the time to double down on Illinois, but my guess is that is not the majority view. If you really want to get out of Illinois though, I’d recommend renting a house on Beaver Island, which is in the middle of Lake Michigan about an hour’s ferry ride from Charlevoix, MI. It’ll feel like your a million miles from anywhere and you won’t need your smartphone or laptop becuase it’s tough to get a connection. Dead quiet and totally remote/relaxing.

    But don’t write-off Illinois for good just yet. We’re near the bottom and so there’s only one way to go from here.

  25. - Anonymous - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:32 am:

    May I suggest the version of We Gotta Get Out of This Place with Bruce Springsteen, Eric Burdon, and the E Street Band from SXSW in Austin earlier this year?

  26. - Hawkeye - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:39 am:

    I suggest Hilton Head or better yet Key West, especially if you drive down US1 vs flying.

  27. - vole - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:42 am:

    Some where out there there’s no place like no where.

    Clear, cold, flowing water where ever you can find it.

  28. - David Aubrey - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:44 am:

    I was born in Highland Park, but now live in St. Louis, Missouri due to my current job. I’d take Illinois’s budget woes anyday over the sillyness that comes out of Jefferson City; i.e., unaccreditted public schools & honorary busts of Rush Limbaugh!

  29. - Bub - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:49 am:

    I am planning on closing down my contracting business, try to sell the house and move out of state. Most likely will move south as jobs seem plentiful there.

  30. - Deep South - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:51 am:

    ===Born Downstate, live Downstate. ===

    Define “Downstate.” Near as I can tell, the only place you might find the term is in the Chicago Tribune stylebook. It’s like saying Peoria, Rockford, Moline and Joliet are the same as Carbondale, Cairo, Marion and Belleville. NOT!

  31. - olddog - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 11:51 am:

    I’m driving out to the East Coast next month. I figure if I gas up and stop to eat around Danville, I can get all the way across Indiana without paying sales tax.

  32. - Shore - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 12:06 pm:

    clip and save for future visits by national politicians visiting trashing Illinois.

    States Furthest in the black on that thing

    Fla-Jeb Bush land

    Furthest in the red

    ca-jerry brown

  33. - Billy - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 12:11 pm:

    Try Crystal River, Florida. The home of the Manatees. No state income tax, low property and sales tax. Nice warm winters!

  34. - I'm Just Saying - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 12:14 pm:

    Rich, Stop being Dramatic like Roger Keats was when he left :)

  35. - Anonymous - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 12:19 pm:

    I wonder how long, shore, before someone comes up with a “Shame on Illinois” tour. Imagine that little bus puttering around the north shore.

  36. - In absentia - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 12:33 pm:

    Go to Napa Valley. You’d be surprised on how bad things aren’t in California.

  37. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 12:36 pm:

    ===Go to Napa Valley.===

    If I can do it relatively cheaply, yes.

  38. - Madison - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 12:51 pm:

    Lake superior country is cool. If writing about the state is not cool….working for it is a lot more challenging. If the economy continues to tank, and the revenues come in under, the red line is gonna get a lot longer, as is the line of cars heading south.

  39. - James the Intolerant - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 12:58 pm:

    I am going to the OP in mid-July for a week, can’t wait.

  40. - Bill - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 1:10 pm:

    I’m already gone.

  41. - x ace - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 1:11 pm:

    “Born Downstate” (previous posts indicated Kankakee area )
    New entertaining book called “Wild Kankakee” has historical news excerpts of bootleggers,mobsters, crooked politicians, murders, and assorted strange events.
    So , maybe , North Downstate and South Downstate ain’t too different.

  42. - Area Code 618 - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 1:16 pm:

    == Define “Downstate.” ==

    No kidding. I would define “Downstate” as anywhere in the (618) area code. From yesterday’s posts, Wordslinger defines it as a farm near Dekalb.

  43. - Anonymous - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 1:17 pm:

    Go to bed and hope you sleep thru it, especially if you’re into nightmares. Sorry, Illinois is a waking nightmare, but it’s ours!

  44. - Rich Miller - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 1:19 pm:

    ===I would define “Downstate” as anywhere in the (618) area code.===

    That’s southern Illinois. Downstate is not just southern Illinois and the Metro East.

  45. - Secret Square - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 1:44 pm:

    Future QOTD/Reader Poll: How do you define “Downstate”? Outside Cook County, outside the Chicago metro area, south of I-80, south/west of another boundary, state of mind, or “other”?

  46. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 1:50 pm:

    === Almost all the money from last year’s huge income tax increase has been sucked up by pension payments, which got so high because the state has never put enough cash into the systems. ===

    Rich -

    I’d put this nugget into the category of often-repeated fallacies.

    The fact is, Illinois’ pension system was 89 percent fully funded as of 1999, far above the Pew Center’s recommended 80 percent litmus test.

    Several things have happened since then:

    1. The Technology Bubble collapsed.
    2. 9/11.
    3. The “Bush Recession”
    4. The “Great Recession”

    1-4 caused tens of billions of losses to our pension system.

    1-3 led to a decline in state revenues, facing Illinois with three choices:

    A. Raise taxes.
    B. Cut safety net programs that people rely upon most during a Recession, or cut education programs which are highly popular.
    C. Reduce or skip pension payments.

    Not surprisingly, we chose C. But for Rod Blagojevich’s insane “no tax” pledge, we would have gone with A, and as soon as he was gone, we did.

    On the bright side, the recent report from Pew notes that despite the lag in job recovery, the stock market has rebounded nicely from the Great Recession, and pension funds are seeing average gains above 20%. Not sure if that’s true in Illinois, but does lead me to hope that some of the pain of recent cuts can be mitigated.

  47. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 1:53 pm:

    FYI, I reject the term “downstate.”

    Illinois should not be defined as “Chicagoland” and “Everything Else.”

    Culturally and economically, Central Illinois is nothing like Southern Illinois which is nothing like the Metro-East. Heck, Champaign County and McDonough County don’t even belong in the same grouping.

  48. - vole - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 1:53 pm:

    ===Go to Napa Valley.===

    If I can do it relatively cheaply, yes.

    Humbolt Co. for the glaucoma treatment.

  49. - Cincinnatus - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 2:10 pm:

    Say you are leaving the state, then hide in the basement for two weeks, Rich…

  50. - Political junkie - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 2:28 pm:

    I recommend northern Michigan on the lake Michigan side. Anywhere up there is reasonably priced and some of the most beautiful scenery you will find anywhere

  51. - Six Degrees of Separation - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 2:48 pm:

    Six months from now, we will be reading the Honolulu version of Capitol Fax online.

  52. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 3:02 pm:

    Lake Geneva. You forget you are in Cheesehead land once you get there.
    Took the family there once about 10 years ago. AA Jr. (ypung teen at that point) is riding shotgun and taking in the Wisconsin sights along the interstate. After a while, he asks, “Dad, are cheese, fireworks, and porn the only things they sell in Wisconsin?

  53. - Yellow Dog Democrat - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 3:13 pm:

    @Rich -

    If Illinois were running smoothly, what’s your business model?


  54. - Sunshine - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 3:25 pm:

    Get in the car, drive the back roads of America heading west. Prefer the middle or northern route this time of year.

    Check out the ‘local’ places and stay away from the big cities. See America as it is meant to be seen.

    Did this several years back with the family and took six weeks to do it. Carried a large Best Western directory and called ahead a couple hours in advance. Met a ton of great folks and renewed our spirit.

    Heading out again, soon. Taking northern route out and southern route back.

    Oh yeah, carried a CB to talk to truckers on occasion and for emergencies. Don’t always have phone reception.

  55. - Uncle Musty - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 3:29 pm:

    I’m happy to say the movers are packing me up on Monday. I’ve been counting the days until I can leave this messed up state.

  56. - Jumbo (jf) - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 3:55 pm:

    47th, I almost fell of my chair when I saw your suggestion.
    I was going to Suggest Beaver Island to Rich. We spend as much time there as we can each year. It is like heaven.
    One correction, the ferry ride is 2 hours long. If you are in a hurry their are 2 small airlines with a 15 min. Flight. All leave from Charlevoix. If you get up their let me know. I’m going next week and I’ll buy you a beer.

  57. - 47th Ward - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 4:28 pm:

    Thanks Jumbo (if). I’ve only been there once, three years ago, but I’ve been trying to get back ever since. Totally fell in love with the place, especially the isolation and disconnection. The silence at night is deafening. You can almost hear the stars twinkling.

    Maybe next year when my daughter will be old enough to splash around in the lake. I’d love to take you up on that beer someday too.

  58. - Jimbo (jf) - Friday, Jun 22, 12 @ 5:02 pm:

    Sure 47th. That was supposed to be Jimbo (my typo - my wife had a laugh cause I’m a big guy). That offer stands for any Capital Fax reader (even conservatives ;-) )
    And, you are right, the silence is deafening and there are an uncountable number of stars in the night sky. And, pretty much no one locks anything and everyone says hello ;-)

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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* Shields honored to be Opening Day starter
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