Let’s take a look at headlines from just one day in December:
• Illinois’ bill backlog topped $11.3 billion as the political impasse preventing a budget deal dragged on.
• Chicago’s murder rate is so freakishly high that it’s significantly driving up the national murder rate.
* The state’s most effective corporate-tax incentive will expire at the end of the month, and both parties are blaming each other.
• The Illinois Republican Party, which has not taken any time off since the 2014 election, launched yet another ad against yet another potential Democratic candidate for governor.
• And, of course, the biggest news of the day came when the U.S. Census Bureau reported that Illinois lost more population than any other state.
In response to that last cataclysmic revelation, we got a tweet from the governor about the need for “reforms” and a press release from Rauner’s office calling on the Democrats to back his pro-business/anti-union reforms so a budget deal could get done.
At least that was something. The Democrats were universally silent.
If you look at the numbers, you’ll see that the easy explanations won’t cut it. Did 114,144 people leave Illinois for other states between July 1, 2015 and July 1, 2016 because of the weather? Some surely did, but Minnesota, which has far colder winters than we do, lost only 1,762 people to other states.
And it’s not taxes, either. Minnesota raised its income tax on the wealthiest not long ago, and its lowest state tax rate is 5.35 percent, far above our 3.75 percent (which was lowered from 5 percent two years ago). Minnesota’s property taxes are lower, but Wisconsin ranked higher on property taxes as a percentage of home value than Illinois, and yet Illinois’ net domestic exodus rate was more than four times as high. Wisconsin’s income-tax rate is also higher than ours.
Is it our unemployment rate? Pennsylvania, which also has a bitterly divided government and lousy weather, had a higher unemployment rate than we did in October, yet our net domestic out-migration rate was more than twice as high. The equivalent of an entire Illinois House district just fled to other states. In a year.
The higher-education system, which drives prosperity in “normal” states, has been under-funded, over-priced, and under-performing for years, and the situation has gotten much worse since Rauner became governor.
We’re in a position where Idaho – yes, Idaho – creates more manufacturing jobs than Illinois does.
When you think about all of those headlines, the only surprise may be that more people aren’t leaving.
Yes, we’ve been losing folks for decades, pretty much since the advent of air conditioning in the South. But the rate of attrition is incerasing.
After factoring in people leaving the state, people coming into the state, births, deaths, etc., our total net loss was 37,508 people in 2016. Those net losses started in 2014, when we lost about 12,000 people. That number more than doubled in 2015, to over 28,000. And then it rose again this year. No other state is experiencing this.
And all we get is either partisan politicking or silence.
At the end of 2014, unemployment was falling here and Illinois was paying all of its appropriated bills in less than 30 days. There were, of course, still serious problems. A Republican promising big change couldn’t have been elected governor that year if everything was fine.
The bill-payment cycle is now about six months. Schools aren’t getting all their promised state money, which puts pressure on our already-high property taxes. Some universities just won’t survive if this impasse continues. And the poor and powerless? They’re out of luck.
Our state’s leaders did essentially the same thing before the last recession. Billions in unpaid bills piled up while House Speaker Michael Madigan waged a two-year war with the corrupt Governor Rod Blagojevich. By the time it was all over, international events had overtaken us, and it took six long and painful years to dig out from under the mess.
Yes, Bruce Rauner is a hardheaded enemy of organized labor. He doesn’t appear to care about most public universities. His heart is seemingly unmoved by the plight of the defenseless.
But whatever else you can say about him, Bruce Rauner is no Rod Blagojevich. This fight is over policy and politics, not corruption.
Illinois is now in an all-too-real danger of becoming a failed state, and I don’t use that phrase lightly. Throw a couple of victories at the guy and let’s move on to our other problems before it’s too late.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax (a daily political newsletter) and CapitolFax.com.