It will be 94 today and we have those bright skies interrupted by occasional storms. We are typical this year and the weather is how it should be, suited for ice cream and the beach. It is hot and the summer is projected to be long (though some of the reasons for this are not good.) But in calling this post what I do, I refer not to the weather, but to the rancor and suffering of Illinois.
We have in our state become an outlier of economic recovery and a model for ineptitude. We are a state that does have pockets of poverty, but also great wealth and no way to capture that wealth. We are a state that taxes a family buying a bag of apples and levies no tax a landowner for expensive legal services. Our toll money has disappeared not to finance our highways, exorbitant taxes on tobacco and alcohol do not go directly to health care, and pension funds have been used on everything but retirement. We have misplaced funds and run a nonsensical tax code to the point, that now we are coming up on the year of collection, we simply cannot pay our bills. Almost anyone (and for all I know it could be everyone as I’ve not seen anything to the contrary) who rates the fiscal health of states puts ours not toward the bottom of the list but at the bottom.
Now we have to pay the piper as they say and for the first time in what seems forever we have a governor that will not roll over for the Legislature.
To know where I am coming from here, let me only say I understand our governor, but I do not agree with him. As for the General Assembly, I do not understand them whatsoever so agreement is impossible. What is not impossible to understand is that this is a state ruled not by a blind justice, but interest groups. This was obvious in 2008 when unions on one hand and the rich on the other persuaded voters a constitutional convention was not in our interests. Unions did not want a constitution that asked them to tell future retirees they would have to save money like everyone else and millionaires had no interest in a progressive tax. And now we are in the place where anyone who is even an amateur economist or reads the news knows both of these things must be done.
They won’t be, at least not yet. Our leadership has not the will for it and besides we can keep the ruse up a little longer. Here in the city, a place in worst shape then the state, we can see the illusion. As long as corporations receive tax breaks the skyscrapers will remain lit up as we are oblivious to empty storefronts on the street level. Another summer music festival with crowds of childless millennials will distract us from the news of crumbling schools. But the ruse will soon be up. CEOs will not want to be in places without boutiques and millennials will have babies. For these the empty streets and crumbling schools will matter.
I think all is not lost, but I may be wrong. If I turn my attention to Chicago, I can see how cities have turned it around, but I’m not optimistic. Detroit is cleaning up its mess, but it was willing to admit it had a problem requiring pensioners and bond holders to both make sacrifices…..what I see here is the constant articles proclaiming we are not Detroit when in reality we are worse. Cleveland went into default, but it retained its public assets and returned to solvency…..here I live with the reality a corporation owns our streets, because our mayor, unlike Kucinich, could not hold on to what is ours. And lest we think only of downtrodden Midwestern cities, remember even New York came to the brink of bankruptcy, but unlike here its unions were willing to make painful concessions to save the city.
States too have been willing to pull themselves up by the bootstraps. I can only hope that the sacrifice of Californians may be an example to us here where we are only content to say give me what’s mine. Then there is my home state (Ohio) which with a progressive tax structure and far less wealth than Illinois now sits atop a nearly billion dollar surplus, but unlike Ohio, Illinois taxes people from their poverty not their wealth.
Perhaps we in America need this, because Illinois and Chicago are not alone. In spite of some success stories on the municipal and state level, the example here will soon be mirrored in many other places. What will be different are the welfare checks in the mailboxes of Naperville rather than Mingo County Kentucky and the fact a global city can go down as easily as a small town. We should not need this, but maybe we do. And we certainly should not want it, but neither should we want it for any community, though our complacency to poverty would suggest otherwise.
Perhaps we need this, but what we actually need more is just to relax and see things for what they are and then act on it. Keeping this local, let me say that I understand the governor, but I do not agree with him. States with a “pro-business” climate can do well with their budgets, but often it comes at the price of federal assistance. For every state like Texas which makes it work are states like South Carolina, which though it runs a balanced state budget, is welfare dependent on Washington DC. If there is any advantage to your pro-business rhetoric Mr. Rauner, it is that Illinoisans may see back much more than the forty five cents to every dollar we now contribute to the federal government.
The Democrats are responsible for an even greater illusion than the governor. Quite simply they have been in power here forever and depending on what you read, our state has the fourth or fifth most regressive tax structure in the country and every time the need for new revenue comes up, taxation happens not at the expense of those who have received the greatest benefit of a free market society, but at the hands of those least able to pay whom Democrats claim to represent.
It is a long hot summer and not on account of the weather, but because of our rancor and suffering. Our leaders continue to fight and this on what has been a hot week when the state lost its cooling assistance program and an agency that serves those with autism and Down ’s syndrome closed its doors. These folks were the pawns. The governor continues to run the state like a business (it’s not) and the Democrats continue to ride in the flat tax clown car.
It is a long hot summer and everyone has a solution; we are not so far gone as to have run out of these yet. Mine would concur with many….call a constitutional convention, one that requires unions and public employees to share pain with those in poverty or who live with disabilities. Also do what other states do and expect that those who have the received the greatest benefits of wealth to be responsible a greater part of the burden of a system which affords them more benefit than detriment. With this I and many others may see many more a long hot summer in Illinois minus the political theatre that is at once comical and tragic. If not, I will at least enjoy this summer with its cooperative weather in what is still a great city and state knowing that in years my hot summers may know a different geography.
Image: Illinois capitol, courtesy of Wikipedia