Illinois has compiled $14.6 billion in unpaid bills. It’s running a deficit of $6 billion, and its pension liability has soared to $130 billion.
That’s not the worst of it. The state’s nearly two-year failure to pass a budget has sent its bond ratings careening toward junk level, downgraded a staggering eight notches below most other states.
Wait, there’s more!
What does the crisis all boil down to? It began with an ego-laden brawl between two powerful men: Rauner and Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan. Rauner was elected in 2014 as the first Republican governor in Illinois in more than a decade, vowing to “shake up Springfield” in a campaign that demonized Madigan — the longest serving House speaker in state history — and targeted “corrupt union bosses.”
Upon taking office, Rauner, a multimillionaire businessman, laid out a list of policy demands that initially included right to work elements as a condition of signing a budget into law. Rauner wanted changes to laws affecting workers’ compensation, collective bargaining and state property taxes, among others. Democrats considered the agenda an attack on unions, which the governor had vilified, saying they had too much power in Illinois politics. Rauner called the measures pro-business and necessary to address decades of financial mismanagement.
But Madigan, who has served as speaker under governors from both political parties, was loath to condition the passage of a budget on the governor’s political agenda. Each side dug in, with unions rushing behind Madigan and Republicans — tired of being shut out for years by Madigan and thrilled to have a generous donor to their campaigns in the governor’s office — lined up behind Rauner.
But wait! There’s even more!
With no solution in sight for the almost-two-year budget standoff, both Rauner and Madigan have sought to flood political campaign accounts with record amounts of cash aimed at broadening their grasp over the Democratic-controlled Legislature. But to pin the blame on Rauner and Madigan is to simplify the crisis, observers say.
“Every single member of the General Assembly has a vote. We’ve been asking for a long time, who do we blame? When we started, we went and visited over 40 legislators in both parties and said, please don’t do this. Exclusively, they’d say: ‘It’s their fault,’ and point to the other chamber. The other leader. I’m like: You are elected, you have a vote,” Durbin said. “So for us to boil it down to two individuals is a bit of a cop-out. Right now, the General Assembly and the governor — none of them are choosing to do what’s in the best interest of the state.”