Also in today’s Jolt:
Could Illinois Get a Republican Governor in 2014?
Illinois Republicans, you have a golden opportunity this year. Don’t screw it up:
Gov. Pat Quinn may be the ‘luckiest politician alive,’ a moniker given to him by Hillary Clinton after all of Quinn’s primary opponents for Governor dropped out of the race, but a recent visit to Rockford and a new statewide poll shows he has a great deal of work to do if he is to win reelection.
The ‘Capitol Fax/We Ask America’ poll republished in the political website ‘Reboot Illinois’ found the Governor trails whoever may be the prospective Republican nominee.
’Reboot Illinois’ reports that, “According to the poll of 1,354 likely general election voters, all four of Quinn’s potential Republican primary opponents have pulled ahead of the long-unpopular Democratic governor. The poll, taken January 30th, found that Sen. Bill Brady leads Gov. Quinn 48-39. Sen. Kirk Dillard and Treasurer Dan Rutherford are ahead of Quinn 46-37. And Rauner leads the governor 47-39. The self-described party affiliation in the poll was 22 percent Republican and 38 percent Democratic, while 40 percent said they were independents.
When one Democrat after another decided to not run for governor against the perpetually unpopular Quinn — most notably Bill Daley and state attorney general Lisa Madigan — I wondered if the current crop of ambitious Democratic pols knew something the rest of us didn’t. Daley’s explanation seemed particularly ominous and cryptic:
“One of the things I always thought in my career that I wanted to do, I thought I would be able to have that opportunity, I hoped, would be to run for office. And even though you’re around it for a long time, you really don’t get a sense of the enormity of it until you get into it,” Daley told the Tribune.
“But the last six weeks or so have been really tough on me, struggling with this. Is this really me? Is this really what I want to spend my next five to nine years doing? And is this the best thing for me to do at this stage of my life?” he said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that this isn’t the best thing for me.”
“A sense of the enormity,” huh? One theory: The state’s finances are such an epic mess that whoever is governor starting next year is going to have four years of misery, and if they’re really unlucky, another four after that.
How bad is Illinois’s long-term debt problem? Bad enough to get Democratic state lawmakers to do things the public-sector unions don’t want them to do. That’s baaaaaaaad!
Quinn and the state legislature just passed a major pension-reform bill, at least temporarily slowing down the clock on one ticking financial time bomb. But that bill may get undone, depending on what the judges say:
Illinois’ largest government employee unions sued Tuesday to overturn Illinois’ new pension law, ripping the long sought, landmark money-saving changes as outright “theft” from workers that won’t pass a legal smell test.
The suit, filed in Sangamon County Circuit Court, had been expected following last month’s passage of a bill that seeks to curb annual cost-of-living increases for retirees and to increase the retirement age for many current workers. The goal is to close the state’s worst-in-the-nation $100 billion unfunded public pension liability within 30 years.
Yes, you read that correctly. A $100 billion debt in the state’s pensions. And that’s the optimistic calculation. As our friends at IllinoisWatchdog.org calculated,
The Land of Lincoln is in the top five when it comes to debt per capita ($25,959), debt in relation to state spending (727 percent) and unfunded pension liability ($254 billion).
Even if the pension-reform law sticks around, the state’s fiscal mess is . . . colossal:
Our analysis of the state’s fiscal situation before the recent pension changes projected a $4 billion deficit in Fiscal Year 2015, which would get larger each year and reach nearly $13 billion in 2025. That is a serious budget gap, and one that is impossible for the state to maintain for long. It’s like a family spending $5,000 each month when they only have $4,700 in income — and that $300 monthly gap growing to $800 each month in 10 years. Just as for this family, this situation is unsustainable for the state.
While the pension changes were at least implicitly touted as helping deal with this large and growing budget gap, they actually affect it very little in the long term. The new pension law does substantially reduce the fiscal burden to the state of paying for future pension obligations. The savings to the state come mostly from reductions in cost of living adjustments for current and future recipients of state pensions.
But for the next 10 years, the state will use most of the savings from the law to address the unfunded liability. The state will only allocate about $1 billion each year to reduce the annual scheduled payments to the pension funds. So with the new pension law in place, the projected deficit goes from $3 billion in FY 2015 to $13 billion in 2025 — still a huge shortfall and hardly different than the situation prior to the pension changes.
The state spent nearly $1.5 billion on interest payments for their debt in 2013.
Hey, where are all of you Republican gubernatorial candidates going? Come back!
If the state of Illinois’ budget deficit were a robot, it would look something like this.