Rumor has it that State Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) is “frustrated” with the current Illinois budget crisis and is contemplating retirement.
So says Chicago Sun-Times gossip columnist Michael Sneed, who reported upon Cullerton’s supposed angst last week, according to her anonymous sources, as always.
We think it’s safe to say, that Cullerton controls this rumor mill.
It’s all part of Cullerton’s desperate campaign to deflect blame from himself for his leading role in digging a financial ditch and driving the State of Illinois straight into it.
And let’s be clear: of everyone who deserves blame, Cullerton ranks close to the top.
Nobody should ever let him forget it.
First elected to the Illinois House in 1979 on the strength of his familiar Chicago Machine last name, Cullerton tried to position himself as an intellectual urbanite, representing a tony north side district full of deep left-leaning thinkers.
He was just “John,” boring compared to the political icons whose name he leveraged to start his career. “Foxy,” “Parky,” and William “the Wisp” Cullerton were legends, an all star list of self-serving operators, famous for peddling clout and wink-and-nod dealings.
Not John. He was raised in the DuPage County suburbs, not in the gritty neighborhood. He would be more sophisticated-- a new breed of Cullerton.
Until he wasn’t.
John Cullerton took office and quickly settled in as wingman and apologist for rising star, soon-to-be House Speaker Michael J. Madigan.
Madigan was a Machine creation and South Sider whose constituents were rougher around the edges than Cullerton’s. But he was a leader-- and this new breed of Cullerton was anxious to follow, ready to flex his supposed intellectual firepower to further Madigan’s goals.
So as Madigan used state borrowing authority to dangle state-backed cash and state taxpayer-funded goodies to mayors and county board members in exchange for control of municipal jobs and helping him keep the House, Cullerton stood by his side.
As Madigan negotiated for higher and higher defined-benefit pensions for not just state but all municipal workers, under state control, Cullerton served as his “point” on the issue, explaining to anyone who would listen that workers didn’t have to contribute more and that the sky would never be falling.
After Cook County started hemorrhaging jobs to the suburbs, thanks to Madigan’s ill-advised massive property tax hike on all industry, Cullerton tried valiantly to cover for him, proposing the collar counties contract the same disease and raise taxes as well. It would “help homeowners,” the intellectual said.
It’s now been 37 years of the Madigan and Cullerton show.
Our state and cities are effectively insolvent, overloaded with debt.
Home equity for the middle class has been gobbled up by pension-driven property tax increases that are the highest in the country, incredibly going even higher.
Our once vibrant suburban areas are now bleeding jobs themselves-- to Wisconsin and Indiana, places populated with Illinois refugees who left for lower taxes.
And John Cullerton-- he’s trying to raise taxes; to spend more; to borrow again. He’s facing opposition-- and he’s “frustrated.”
To be sure, this Cullerton never got a kitschy, memorable nickname, but as one of the leading architects of Illinois’ financial ruin, history will never forget or forgive him.