If you live, work, or own a business in Illinois, the results of decades of political malfeasance are easy to spot: services cut, schools struggling, credit ratings downgraded, essential services curtailed, infrastructure in disrepair, public safety and health spending shortchanged, taxes and fees raised, and governmental reforms endlessly postponed. This is, understandably, a source of incredible frustration for citizens who daily deal with the many problems caused by the irresponsible practices of state government.
Unfortunately, the solutions that are now being proposed in Springfield boil down to more of the same: Give us your money. Apparently the idea that abandoning business as usual—when business as usual has nearly put the state out of business—is beyond consideration. Illinois has instead become the poster child for what happens when elected leaders decide that finding new and expensive ways to fund governmental failure is itself the whole point of governing.
These are the end times for giveaways and graft in the Land of Lincoln. The financial catastrophe that now confronts Illinois is wide, deep, and beyond repair—as the Governor and State Legislators are well aware; it is now simply a question of who will be blamed when the system crashes. A monstrous current accounts deficit, grotesquely underfunded state pension systems that offer retirees no security, and decades of excessive and corrupt overspending are now pushing Illinois right to the brink.
There is only one solution that will solve Illinois’ calamitous financial shortfall: bankruptcy. Although federal law currently prohibits states from entering bankruptcy, the recent “bankruptcy” of Puerto Rico demonstrates that laws can be tweaked to allow for state debts and obligations to be discharged. Although any Illinois insolvency would likely come with a more politically palatable appellation (“Fiscal Reconciliation”, anyone?), there is no other way forward. Delay of the inevitable may continue a little longer, but basic addition and subtraction will win out eventually.
Will this be painful? Yes. Will it prompt endless finger pointing and blame shifting? Absolutely. Will schools, state retirees, the elderly, children, state employees, the disabled, contractors, and taxpayers bear the brunt of the consequences while those with money and influence avoid the worst? Count on it. Fiscal meltdown, as much as we might wish it to be otherwise, is a process that is never fair and rarely reasonable. It is instead a dirty, raw, and frightening process that drives wedges between people and institutions while all are desperately scrambling for a seat on the last leaky lifeboat before the ship of state goes down.
Citizens of Illinois are in for a rough ride for years to come, and it is likely that even more residents will join the many already abandoning the state. However, those who remain will have an opportunity to participate in the historic rebuilding of a state government and its institutions. If people are strong, if they are responsible, and if they are humane, Illinois can once again be a wonderful place to live and work.