Illinois is entering a fiscal death spiral. Though the state has faced years of financial mismanagement, media is gearing up to blame the state’s Republican Governor. Kansans are familiar with this tune.
“We’re in a death spiral—Illinois has the worst pension crisis in the nation and needs the boldest reforms,” Ted Dabrowski, Illinois Policy Institute’s vice president of policy, told Fox News. “There is no doubt that junk bond rating is on its way.”
The state’s pension liability tops $130 billion. The Land of Lincoln boasts $14.6 billion in unpaid bills and Illinois is running a deficit of nearly $7 billion.
Kansas legislators should be watching the Illinois train wreck unfold from a distance and avert disaster. Unfortunately, it appears Kansas lawmakers are boarding the spending express. Next stop: bankruptcy.
Like Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, a Republican, inherited a mess. When Brownback entered office in 2011, Kansas’ pension liabilities ranked next to last. At the very bottom sat Illinois. Today, Kansas’ public pension system ranks in the middle, but that’s not a tale often told by the state’s local media. Nor does the national media give it much attention. Illinois’ disastrous death spiral is finally garnering some media attention, however, just in time for Illinois’ 2018 gubernatorial race to heat up. Rauner will seek re-election, and media is hot on the trail, attempting to lay Illinois’ budget troubles at Rauner’s feet.
Politico says Rauner is running campaign ads to “shame Democrats,” and that he’s pulled the plug on a “series of bipartisan votes.”
Kansans are familiar with this media song and dance. It goes something like this: A Republican becomes the state’s top executive after years of mismanagement. In Kansas’ case, former Govs. Joan Finney, Bill Graves, Kathleen Sebelius and Mark Parkinson underfunded Kansas Public Employee Retirement System with the help of the Kansas Legislature. Even in years of plenty, the former administrations couldn’t be bothered to use the cash to fund the public pension system. By the time Sebelius ascended to the position of Secretary of U.S. Health and Human Services (where she proceeded to drive America’s healthcare system off a cliff), the state was facing an SEC investigation for failing to report the tattered shape of its unfunded public pensions. Brownback’s administration cleaned up the mess, settling a fraud case based on the actions of state officials in 2009 and 2010–before Brownback took office.
As soon as the immediate dangers of a sinking ship are fixed–in Kansas’ case, the damaged KPERS’ system was strengthened–the media attacks the Republican Governor heading into election season. Media will have more fodder in Illinois than they did in Kansas in 2013.
Things are worse in Illinois. Two of the three Governors preceding Rauner served time in federal prison for corruption.
Rauner called the state “a banana republic,” and Politico says the Land of Lincoln “is about to have the most expensive election the state has ever seen.” The Democratic-lead Illinois General Assembly has yet to pass a budget in the last two years. Meanwhile, students are fleeing Illinois universities, the Chicago Public School system is borrowing money to stay afloat, and Illinois is sitting on a pile of bills that could reach $20 billion before the 2018 election.