What’s Missing from the State of the State in Illinois?
By now, all Illinoisans know what Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner said in his State of the State address. We know what has been said by House and Senate Republicans. We know the responses of House and Senate Democrats. Even with all of this information for Illinois voters to hear and consider, what’s missing here?
Illinois enters its bicentennial year reflecting on what was born, built and grown in Illinois:
- Illinois was the first to ratify the Thirteenth Amendment, which effectively ended slavery.
- Four U.S. presidents called Illinois home at one point in time: Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Ronald Reagan and Barack Obama.
- It is home of the Twinkie and the first nuclear chain reaction.
- People who did their best work in Illinois include Gwendolyn Brooks, Robert Millikan, Benny Goodman, Walt Disney, Jane Addams, and John Deere.
- Illinois is home to 36 companies listed in the Fortune 500, 1.2 million small businesses and 72,000 of the greatest farms comprised of millions of acres.
Okay, so some or all of those things are good, worthy of praise and pride. So what exactly is missing here?
Illinois government is a culture of corruption
It’s hard not to find a state that is steeped in corruption, but few come close to Illinois. Ten Chicago city aldermen, seven municipal officials or workers, five state officials, five former governors and seven Congressmen have been censured, charged, impeached, forced to resign or imprisoned for corruption—both Democrats and Republicans.
The most notable ones in this modern era are former U.S. representative Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D), former U.S. Representative Aaron Schock (R), four of the past several governors—Otto Kerner (D), Dan Walker (D), George Ryan (R) and Rod Blagojevich (D)—Auditor General Frank Mautino, and Rita Crundwell, the former comptroller and treasurer of the City of Dixon.
Jackson, who represented the state’s second Congressional district beginning in 1995, violated campaign finance laws by using campaign funds for personal purchases, resulting in his 2012 resignation. He was convicted of one count of wire fraud and mail fraud and served 30 months in prison.
Schock, who represented the state’s 18th Congressional district beginning in 2009, spent outrageous amounts of money of vacations and renovations of his district offices. After being taking to task on the issue in 2015, he resigned. Schock was indicted of 24 criminal counts of theft of government funds (theft from the American people is more appropriate), fraud, making false statements, and filing false tax returns in 2016. No updates as to how long he could be in prison.
Four Illinois governors in the past half-century have gone to prison for corruption. The first was Otto Kerner, Jr., the 33rd governor of Illinois (1961–1969). He was convicted of 17 counts of mail fraud, conspiracy, perjury and additional charges by the prosecutor and future governor James R. Thompson. Kerner was a Federal judge when he was indicted in 1974, and resigned to avoid a likely impeachment.
Dan Walker, the 36th governor of Illinois (1973–1977), was convicted of bank fraud and perjury involving receiving improper loans from a bank he acquired, the First American Savings and Loan Association, which would be declared insolvent in 1987 as part of the savings and loan crisis. Walker served 18 months of a seven-year sentence.
George Ryan, the 39th governor of Illinois, was convicted of fraud and racketeering charges in 2006 for crimes committed during his two terms as secretary of state (1991–1999) and as governor (1999–2003). Ryan served six and a half years in Federal prison before being released to house arrest
Rod Blagojevich, the 40th governor of Illinois and Ryan’s successor, was convicted in 2010 on 18 counts of corruption, including attempting to sell or trade an U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama. Blagojevich is serving a 14-year prison sentence and is the only governor to be impeached and successfully removed by the Illinois General Assembly.
Frank Mautino was the former Auditor General under former governor Pat Quinn (D). He was fined $5,000 after failing to disclose investigation findings on a former legislative campaign’s expenses.
Rita Crundwell (R) was the City of Dixon’s comptroller and treasurer that embezzled $54 million over many years. Crundwell was arrested for fraud in 2012 and was convicted of wire fraud, serving nearly two decades in prison. The embezzlement and horse farm it paid were the focus of Kelly Richmond Pope’s 2017 documentary All the Queen’s Horses.
Sexual misconduct is a problem in government
Last fall, the #MeToo movement against sexual misconduct and violence rampaged through the country, including Illinois. Before you knew it, Hollywood actors, producers, director, and studio heads were out of a job; major figures in journalism and broadcasting were suspended or fired; and political figures faced censure, lawsuits and resignation.
In Minnesota, former Sen. Al Franken (D) resigned last month amid allegations of sexual misconduct. In Illinois, Democratic state senator Ira Silverstein (D-Chicago) is being investigated following a complaint by Denise Rotheimer, which has resulted in a firefight between Rotheimer and an allegedly dismissive Legislative Inspector General Julie Porter.
While Rauner is signing an executive order to make the process easier for those who fear retribution for filing a complaint of sexual misconduct against another individual, will it truly be enough to stop sexual misconduct in government?
People are leaving Illinois
Gov. Rauner failed to mention the reasons and impact of people leaving Illinois, but the answer is clear-cut: high taxation.
Taxation is excessive in the Chicagoland region and it’s getting worse in other parts of Illinois. Macon County, where Decatur is the county seat, has seen the largest exodus of residents in the past five years, primarily due to high property taxes and other high taxes.
At different times during 2017, the conservative think tank Illinois Policy Institute reported that one person was leaving Illinois for other states every 5 minutes. The foremost reason: high taxation.
Despite the tax-related exodus, Republican and Democrat Illinois lawmakers significantly increased individual and corporate income taxes in 2017—on Independence Day, ironically. And not only did they vote the increases into law, they did it with enough votes to override a gubernatorial veto.
Illinoisans distrust government
Rauner mentions that due to the political turmoil that takes place in Springfield, there is a lack of trust in state government. He said he wants people to trust the government again, but how can we trust a state government that fails to do what they’re supposed to do over and over again, only for voters to blindly vote them in again?
Balanced budgets are hopeless
Libertarian Party of Illinois chairman Lex Green said it best: the fiscal problem in Illinois is a bipartisan problem. Both Democrats and Republicans are responsible for the financial quagmire that state has been immersed in since at least 2001.
I’m incredibly skeptical of the state finance proposals that will be presented in the next couple weeks. Will there be much-overdue spending cuts to reflect with actual revenues? Will there be tax cuts? Will marijuana be legalized and taxed? Perhaps, but it seems unlikely with a Democratic-majority state legislature whose motto in Illinois is “tax and overspend thrice over.”