Mr. Madigan, Wisconsin Thanks You for Blocking Illinois Reforms

Early this month, when they hit taxpayers with a 32 percent jump in the individual income tax rate, many legislators broke a promise they had made: No more tax hikes without major reforms to help Illinois’ moribund economy. Don’t worry, said Democrats who pushed the tax hike. We’ll get to those reforms soon enough.

But not soon enough, we now see, to keep electronics giant Foxconn from bypassing Illinois to make a jobs-rich investment in southeast Wisconsin. This is a huge win for Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin whom Illinois Democrats loathe. Just as this is an embarrassment for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan (as also for Senate President John Cullerton).

Once again, the people of Illinois see how Madigan and Cullerton, with their combined eighty-six years in Springfield (just let that sink in, eighty-six years, this is why we need term limits), have left Illinois ill-prepared to compete for 21st-century jobs. Their agenda is about raising taxes, not about delivering those reforms. Every other state on Foxconn’s short list looked better than Illinois by the basic measures of financial stability and pro-growth economies.

No wonder, then, that Illinois is starved for jobs. We expect to learn more in coming days about Foxconn’s thinking. We don’t know details of whatever federal, state and local government incentives lured the company “Beyond the Cheddar Curtain”. And we can’t be certain how many billions of dollars in investment, and how many thousands of jobs, Wisconsin will gain.

But we do know this: Wisconsin boasts a freshly burnished global image. One of the planet’s largest tech firms, with a million workers worldwide, says its search led it to bet a fraction of its future on Wisconsin. Assuming that happens, expect robust economic growth from suppliers, subcontractors, construction companies and other businesses that will serve Foxconn and its workforce.

Cranky Springfield apologists for Madigan and Cullerton will say I am overreaching, that Gov. Bruce Rauner is somehow to blame for losing Foxconn to Wisconsin. Except Rauner has been pushing exactly the kinds of employer-friendly reforms that Madigan and Cullerton have resisted, often to please their allies who lead labor unions.

It’s Madigan (and Cullerton) who’ve set up Illinois to fail in these contests for jobs. Madigan and Cullerton who haven’t sent Rauner a no-gimmicks property tax freeze to even slightly offset the extra $5 billion their income tax hike will gouge from companies and workers. Madigan and Cullerton who won’t make major fixes to a workers’ compensation system that drives away employers. Madigan and Cullerton who can’t deliver significant pension reforms to Rauner’s desk. Madigan and Cullerton who can’t bring themselves to slash that costly roster of seven thousand local governments.

The Chicago Tribune got it pretty good here:

Year upon year, these majority leaders haven’t delivered those sweeping solutions to the people of Illinois — citizens sufficiently exasperated that they fired one governor and hired another to disrupt Madigan and Cullerton’s statehouse. On their watch, Illinois has become a national embarrassment, a failed job creator whose young people are leaving by the tens of thousands.

Just as the Chicago Tribune did, I urge Madigan and Cullerton to run for re-election from their districts if they wish, but to step down from their leadership posts.

Enough of their games. Foxconn’s choice of Wisconsin offers a fresh opportunity to act on what’s wrong with Illinois:

We await the reforms legislators promised, so that Illinois doesn’t keep driving employers to other states.

Just as we hope Michael Madigan and John Cullerton realize they’ve delivered more for the governor of Wisconsin than for the people of Illinois.

What are Illinois Taxpayers Getting for Sending Another $5 Billion to Springfield?

Now, I usually do not write that much about state politics, I usually focus on the nation as a whole; but as a resident of Illinois, I feel a need to write something regarding the newly passed budget.


Finalizing a thirty two percent income tax hike, the Illinois House on Thursday approved a budget for the fiscal year that began July 1. Illinois taxpayers will begin paying a 4.95 percent individual income rate, up from 3.75 percent, retroactive to July 1.

What are taxpayers getting for sending another $5 billion to Springfield?

Business as usual.

You might think that Democratic legislators — for fourteen years the primary architects of a financial fiasco that has created enormous taxpayer debts — would acquiesce on pro-growth economic reforms that our neighboring states have adopted.

You might think the majority party would listen to large and small business owners about the urgent need for more reasonable workers’ compensation insurance costs.

You might think Democrats would have advanced another pension reform bill or created a lower-cost, defined contribution plan for new employees, or attempted to change the Illinois Constitution’s crushing pension obligation language.

You might think they would have been alarmed at the exodus of residents escaping to states with lower taxes, far fewer debt obligations and less dysfunction.

You might think Democrats would have agreed to a property tax freeze.

And on every count, you’d be wrong. The budget that Democrats crafted and that more than a dozen Republicans supported includes minor changes to the woefully underfunded pension system and yes, wide-ranging across-the-board spending cuts. It includes $350 million in new education money — provided Governor Bruce Rauner signs a separate school funding bill that revamps the way the state partially funds K-12 education.

But this budget, like those Democrats advanced for the past two decades, also spends taxpayer money on untested, unproven programs. It includes money for pork projects (the appropriation of government spending for localized projects secured solely or primarily to bring money to a representative’s district). It includes money for a clouted downstate shooting complex. It includes money for state fairs, fisheries, diversity programs, agriculture studies, and $330,500 above Rauner’s requested amount for Choose Chicago, the city’s public-private economic development arm that doesn’t make its spending public.

What the budget agreement doesn’t do is adopt the sensible, pro-growth reforms Rauner championed as a candidate and during his two and a half years in office. No meaningful workers’ comp changes. No property tax freeze. No major downsizing of the state’s 7,000 units of government. No votes — that’s all Rauner requested — on redistricting reform or term limits to rebuild trust in government.

And while Democratic sponsors said the spending plan should start paying down a backlog of bills and reduce costs in the pension system, rating agencies that monitor state finances weren’t convinced. Moody’s Investors Service cited the state’s crippling debt — again, taxpayers’ crippling debt — as reason to potentially drop Illinois’ bond rating to junk.

The Democrats passed a massive tax hike without addressing their addictive spending that is the root of the debt problem, and they did not adopt pro-growth reforms to get Illinois’ economy humming.

The Illinois taxpayers wish they could say the additional income we’ll be forking over will be the tourniquet that saves Illinois’ failing government and flailing economy.

We can’t say that. The money, we’re afraid, will merely chase debt that, despite this revenue, keeps rising.

A thirty two percent tax hike should have been directly linked to a major overhaul of the way Springfield does business. That was the intent of the original Senate negotiations on a grand bargain, which this page supported.

But Rauner, unfortunately, collapsed those talks. Many Democrats saw an escape route and took it. Trust evaporated. True compromise didn’t happen. Instead, a tax hike that makes Illinois even more unappealing for employers and other citizens.

Welcome to the new Illinois. Same as the old Illinois. Except thirty two percent pricier.