Illinois Democrats now have it all, except excuses
Here y’go, Democrats! Illinois and its staggering array of problems are all yours starting Monday.
In November, you asked voters for their support, their endorsement of your general philosophy of governance, and they gave it to you, good and hard.
They gave you back the governorship, returned Democrats to every other statewide constitutional office and increased Democratic majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly to near-record, ultra-supermajority levels. But in the process they took away something of considerable political value: an excuse for failure.
Why are we more than $7 billion behind in paying our bills? Why is the state budget always in the red? Why do we have the worst credit rating and the highest pension debt in the nation? Why are our unemployment rate and property tax bills consistently higher than the national average?
Why are we one of the few states with a regressive flat income tax? Why is our public school funding formula so out of whack, and why is our infrastructure crumbling? Why do overwhelmingly popular proposals to increase the minimum wage and change the way political maps are drawn languish in Springfield? Why are we suffering a steady population drain?
In the past, the party has pointed the finger of shared blame for inaction at Republican governors, Downstate conservatives, fragile coalitions requiring bipartisanship and at grandstanding “outsider” Democratic governors such as Rod Blagojevich and Pat Quinn. That accusation often had some merit. And voters seemed to buy it, seeing that 58.8 percent of them cast votes for Democratic state House candidates in November and 54.5 percent for Democratic gubernatorial candidate J.B. Pritzker, who will be sworn into office Monday.
Now that Democrats have the most comprehensive grip on power in modern memory — with a 4-3 majority on the Illinois Supreme Court as a backstop — the finger of blame (or credit) for the state of the state will point squarely and exclusively at them.
Yes, wrangling majority caucuses from diverse parts of the state can be a problem, but with 74 seats in the House (14 more than is needed to pass a routine bill) and 40 in the Senate (10 more), along with a governor who has signaled a desire to cooperate with leadership, the Democrats have plenty of room to maneuver legislatively.
And a national economic recession could thwart even the bestlaid plans to pull Illinois out of its downward glide.
Republicans will disagree often with the paths Pritzker, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton decide to follow, with the initiatives they take up and the ones they table. It’s no secret that I lean left, and I’ll certainly disagree at times myself.
But we should all agree that Democrats will succeed or fail based on a set of key metrics: The pension debt, the state’s credit ratings, job and wage growth compared with similar states, population growth compared with similar states, the budget bottom line, and poverty and crime rates all come to mind.
Many of these variables are dependent on one another, of course — sound budgeting leads to better credit ratings leads to more jobs and higher wages, which leads to a smaller population exodus, just for instance — and tweaking them upward is bound to cause at least temporary pain in some quarters.
But as of Monday, Democrats, you own the variables as well as the pain. You alone didn’t break the state, but you own it now.
You told us you had the answers. Let’s hope you do.
Walls, borders and morality
Better late than never, I am taking Democratic U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to task for confusing a fraught political issue by referring to a wall on our Mexican border as immoral.
On Dec. 6, she said that additional barrier construction as demanded by President Donald Trump would be “immoral still,” even if the Mexican government paid for it. On Jan. 3, then, responding to reporters’ questions about the partisan standoff over wall funding that has resulted in a shutdown of roughly 25 percent of the federal government, Pelosi said, “A wall is an immorality. It’s not who we are as a nation.”
She hasn’t elaborated, but it’s an interesting philosophical assertion. Now, though, it’s one best suited for late nights in the dorm room rather than the halls of Congress.
“Freedom of movement is a basic human right,” argued George Mason University economist Alex Tabarrock in an Atlantic essay in 2015. “What moral theory justifies using wire, wall, and weapon to prevent people from moving to opportunity? What moral theory justifies using tools of exclusion to prevent people from exercising their right to vote with their feet?”
He wrote, “No standard moral framework … regards people from foreign lands as less entitled to exercise their rights — or as inherently possessing less moral worth — than people lucky to have been born in the right place at the right time.”
Trump and many of his allies have thrown Pelosi’s provocative declaration back in Democrats’ faces — “The only thing that is immoral is the politicians to do nothing and continue to allow more innocent people to be so horribly victimized,’’ Trump said during his prime-time speech to the nation Tuesday — and thus it’s only served to confuse the highly symbolic, dismayingly disruptive fight over Trump’s extortionate demand.
Better now to focus on the immorality of Trump putting hundreds of thousands of federal employees and their families through the pain and uncertainty of a partial shutdown in an attempt to pay for a dubious solution to a shrinking problem.
Better to talk about the immorality of deriding as criminals and thieves desperate families seeking safety.
The winner of this week’s online reader poll for funniest tweet is “I’m amazed by people who lose weight (with) exercise. When I exercise, nothing happens (because) my DNA still thinks I’m a European peasant. So it’s like ‘Oh! Are we running from the English again, lass? Dinnae ye worry: we’ll keep ye plump as a partridge to outlast the murderous bastards!’” from @LaComtesseJamie. To receive an email alert after each new poll is posted, go to chicagotribune.com/ newsletters and sign up under Change of Subject.