Gov. J.B. Pritzker has a narrative he wants Illinoisans to believe: “We are a state on the rise...we were going in the wrong direction, but we are turning the ship in the right direction, and we are powering ourselves forward.”
During Wednesday’s State of the State he added, “I’m here to tell the carnival barkers, the doomsayers, the paid professional critics – the state of our state is growing stronger each day.”
Pritzker is mistaken to think Illinoisans will buy such false optimism. The governor hasn’t passed or promoted a single structural spending or governance reform that justifies his narrative.
He’s categorically rejected an amendment to the pension protection clause. His property tax commission can’t put together a coherent report. He has refused to change the spending patterns in the state. And he’s not going to convince anybody that his tough talk about corruption is real unless he demands House Speaker Michael Madigan resign.
With nothing to back him up, the governor is asking Illinoisans to simply ignore the reality they are living in – that taxes are too high, services are being crowded out, real home values continue to fall, and that residents are leaving at a record pace.
And as for the “doomsayers,” they’re only relating what Illinoisans and people, businesses and organizations across the country already know: that Illinois is a national outlier. Most are simply reporting the winners and losers across the country, and Illinois is consistently the loser:
– U.S. News and World Report concluded Illinois is the worst state in the nation for “fiscal stability,” while states like Tennessee and Indiana are named two of the best.
– Kiplinger called Illinois the least tax-friendly state in the nation. Wyoming is the most-friendly.
– Moody’s reports that Illinois’ finances justify a position that’s one notch above junk, the lowest in the nation, while confirming the AAA-credit rating of states like Indiana.
– GOBankingRates warned that nine Illinois cities are among the top 50 housing markets in the nation that are “turning ugly.”
– The Wall Street Journal and Bloomberg have warned that Illinois is one of the biggest losers in the competition for people and wealth.
– The Financial Times asked whether it’s Illinois, New Jersey or California that will be the “next Italy” and warned that state insolvency may be a systemic risk to the entire country.
– Former FDIC Chairman William Isaac, a leading insolvency expert and a Democrat, who wrote three years ago that both Illinois and Chicago should already have been in some form of bankruptcy proceeding.
– Warren Buffett basically told businesses to stay the heck out of Illinois. Clearly referring to states like ours, he said: “If I were relocating into some state that had a huge unfunded pension plan I’m walking into liabilities…I’ll be here for the life of the pension plan and they will come after corporations, they’ll come after individuals.”
Does Pritzker really think these people and groups are all political hacks, paid professional critics and carnival barkers? Are he and his advisers not reading these things? Doesn’t he know that these organizations’ predictions have come true?
But it’s more than just about the observations of outside media, organizations and companies. Pritzker is dismissing the experiences of ordinary people who live Illinois’ reality every day.
It’s our neighbors, relatives, friends and business associates who left this state for a better life.
It’s people like Tanya Wellmaker who left Collinsville, Illinois in 2012 for better opportunities in entrepreneur-friendly Atlanta.
It’s the former mayor of Lakewood, Paul Serwatka, who took his young family to booming northern Alabama.
It’s our former neighbor, who left Wilmette after calculating he could amass $1 million over 20 years by simply leaving Illinois and its sky-high property taxes for low-cost Colorado.
And it’s people like Don and Paula Parker, fixed income seniors who will be forced to leave Illinois if taxes go any higher.
There’s no denying Gov. Pritzker has brought “harmony” to state government. Gone are the stalemate and infighting of the past four years.
But gone with the rancor and dysfunction is any sense of fiscal realism. Instead, Pritzker is pitching a distorted reality.
The governor is asking Illinoisans not just to shun the experts and common citizens like those above, but to deny what they are seeing and hearing with their own eyes and ears.
It won’t work.
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