If anyone wanted a crystal ball to see how a progressive society driven purely by Democratic policies would look like, look no further than Illinois – where President Barack Obama established himself politically.
The Democrats monopolized complete control of Springfield 10 years ago, but Democratic Party Chairman Michael Madigan has been speaker of the Illinois House for 30 years now. To ensure it stays that way, Chicago Machine Democrats have gerrymandered congressional districts in Illinois in such an absurd fashion that one panel of federal judges called the new map “a blatant political move to increase the number of Democratic congressional seats,” while another separate judicial panel acknowledged that the new state legislature plan likely was “enacted in large part to give Democrats a partisan advantage.”
The gerrymandered districts delivered Illinois Democrats veto-proof supermajorities in both chambers of the state legislature in 2012 – making even the governor now irrelevant. Speaker Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton can now pass anything they want with lightning speed and without even looking at Governor Pat Quinn, let alone any Republicans that may still be around. The Chicago Tribune printed a fitting cartoon for the fate of the GOP in the Land of Lincoln, where the Republican Party was born:
For starters, Illinois is a forced union state, meaning you must join unions if you work in certain professions and have those dues taken out of your paycheck whether you choose to participate or not. In the annual study conducted by the moving company United Van Lines, the top 10 states that residents continued to flee from in 2012 are forced union/high tax burden states. Illinois finished as the second highest state with the most outbound traffic in the nation, behind only New Jersey.
A study conducted by the Illinois Policy Institute found that more than a net 800,000 residents have migrated out of Illinois over the last 15 years – averaging to about one Illinois taxpayer leaving every 10 minutes, taking away a total of over $26 billion in taxable income with them.
Most will probably remember the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike that got nationwide attention last fall. When Mayor Rahm Emanuel came into office in May 2011, one of his most ambitious reforms was trying to extend the Chicago Public School (CPS) day. Until recently, the CPS school day was a mere 5 hours and 45 minutes – ranking last among the 10 largest cities in the U.S.
Emanuel argued that the city was unfairly shortchanging CPS students in instructional time, resulting in fewer future opportunities for them. He proposed extending the elementary school day to 7 hours and 30 minutes.
The CTU, in turn, then demanded a 30% salary raise. Keep in mind that CPS is a system where the average salary for teachers is $76,450 a year, compared to the $53,976 made by the average private sector employee, where their graduation rate is barely half (55%), and where only 6 out of every 100 children in a system responsible for over 400,000 children will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 26-years-old. A 30% raise would’ve brought the average median salary to around $100,000 for a profession that works 170 days out of the year.
Meanwhile, the CPS system was facing a budget deficit of $665 million in the $5.73 billion 2012-2013 fiscal year. To close it, Emanuel had to raise property taxes, cut costs anywhere possible, and completely drain all the CPS’s cash reserves.
Emanuel even scaled back his longer school day proposal from 7 and a half hours to just 7 hours in an effort to negotiate, but CTU boss Karen Lewis wouldn’t budge. So instead, Emanuel decided to hire an additional 477 teachers to fill in the longer school day with programs that are always on the chopping block such as music, art, foreign language, and physical education, which delivered students a longer school day without requiring CPS teachers to work longer hours.
Basically, there was no money left. Yet not only did the CTU not back down from its salary raise demands, but they were also demanding unprecedented administrative powers that are traditionally reserved for the CPS, including managerial rights, job security guarantees, and a scaling back of teachers evaluations based on standardized test scores.
Ultimately, Mayor Emanuel caved, because unions own the Democratic Party – funding their elections and campaigning for them. Not only were teacher evaluations kept based on a checklist rather than standardized test scores, but CTU teachers also received a 17.6% raise – bringing their total average salary to $89,900 today.
Meanwhile, on the statewide level, out of control public pension costs are drowning Illinois in red ink. The state’s total unfunded pension liability now stands at $203 billion, ranking Illinois as the worst funded pension system in America according to the Pew Research Center. Illinois also owes $43.8 billion more than the net value of all its assets combined, leaving us with the worst deficit in the nation, again due largely to public sector pension costs according to the state’s Auditor General. This has resulted in Illinois seeing its credit rating cut repeatedly by all major credit rating agencies, ranking us … you guessed it, dead last in the nation.
In an effort to stop the state from drowning in pension debt, Democrats passed the largest tax hike in Illinois history: a 67% increase on all income earners and 46% increase on all businesses – all of which went to our pension system and still wasn’t enough to cover last year’s pension deficit, let alone any of Illinois’ $9 billion in other outstanding bills. The tax hike also reversed a trend of job creation as Illinois slowly began to recover after the recession, leading to a spike in unemployment.
Gov. Quinn then proposed modest reforms to fix the state’s pension system and extend its longevity, including: increasing public employee contributions by 3%, reducing the automatic annual cost-of-living increase in retirement, and increasing the retirement age to 67 for current employees, among others. According to Quinn, we could have our pension system 100% funded within the next generation by passing these reforms.
Not so fast, said the Illinois AFL-CIO boss Michael Carrigan, who on behalf of a coalition of unions, called the plan an endorsement of “unfair and unconstitutional cuts.”
And what was his plan to bring awareness throughout Illinois for public pension reform? A lame infomercial featuring “Squeezy, the Public Pension Python!”
Needless to say, it didn’t work. The Democrats that unions help to get elected continue to keep a hands off approach to any public pension reform. The Chicago Tribune went so far as to call them cowards, stating, “House Speaker Michael Madigan (D-Chicago), Senate President John Cullerton (D-Chicago) and their Democratic majorities want you to know they simply are not capable of agreeing on any law that would begin to fix their terrible pension debacle. Nor do Gov. Pat Quinn, Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno (R-Lemont) or House Minority Leader Tom Cross (R-Oswego) have the means to compel them. So as the state’s unfunded pension liability continues to rise by some $17.1 million a day.”
The high debt and high tax climate that has resulted from union control over Illinois’ lawmakers has deterred businesses left and right from wanting to open up shop in Illinois. For example, Nassef Sawiris – a University of Chicago graduate who heads a global firm, Orascom Construction Industries – was looking to establish a $1.4 billion fertilizer plant in the Midwest, bringing with it hundreds of precious, stable, good-paying jobs. Sawiris wanted to build it in Illinois, citing a sentimental attachment to where he received his college education.
But he chose Iowa instead. Why? As he put it, “Illinois’ promised benefits are not sustainable in our view given the balance sheet of the state of Illinois. Whatever tax rates exist today we have to take with a grain of salt. The unfunded pension liabilities of the state of Illinois were a big concern to us, let alone the hypothetical situations that exist in doing business in Illinois and Chicago.”
In fact, Illinois is losing businesses and jobs across state lines to more business-friendly states with better governments, such as Indiana and Wisconsin. As a result, job creation has been poor – so poor that a new study from the IMPACT Research Center of Chicago’s Heartland Alliance for Human Needs & Human Rights shows that 1 in every 3 Illinoisans are now living in poverty. The 33% figure is up from 25% of Illinoisans who lived in or near poverty in 2000. In 1990, it was 27%; in 1980, 26%. The study also found that almost half of Chicago’s population is living in or near poverty.
With poor education and lack of job opportunities, gang violence is now on the rise. Despite the fact that, as my PolicyMic colleague Charlie Vidal pointed out, Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the nation, the city experienced a 39% spike in gun homicides last year because the illegal gun trade in Chicago has continued to flourish despite the gun ban. Chicago finished 2012 with over 500 murders – and has already seen 22 murders through January 13 – putting it on track to already shatter last year’s record setting gun homicide rate.
Illinois’ second largest city (Aurora), by contrast, experienced zero murders last year. That’s right, not one. Because of strict gun control laws? Nope. As the police chief explained, “If you look at about 2005 to 2007, we took about 150 high-ranking gang members, shooters off the streets in Aurora, with help from federal partnerships with the ATF and FBI. I think that was a big contributor.” In other words, aggressively taking criminals off the streets and keeping them behind bars does more to lower the homicide rate than keeping law-abiding citizens from owning firearms, leaving them vulnerable and unable to defend themselves. Numerous studies have confirmed this before.
In addition to leading the nation in gun homicides, Chicago also leads the nation in corruption according to a study conducted by the University of Illinois’ Institute of Government and Public Affairs. It certainly didn’t end with Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D). Rep. Derrick Smith (D) was caught on tape taking a $7,000 bribe, has been indicted by the FBI and expelled from the state legislature. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr. (D) was forced to resign from office after facing federal charges for misusing campaign funds and is working on a plea deal that will include jail time.
Both Smith and Jackson easily won re-election by the way, by 62% and 63% respectively. This is how hopeless it is in Chicago, particularly due to gerrymandering districts.
From union control to gun control and from out of control spending to out of control corruption, Illinois provides a text book lesson to the nation on how one party rule and progressive policies fail to create jobs, reduce gun violence, improve education standards, fight poverty or provide any public accountability. The only thing even more stunning is how a product of this system could get elected President of the United States. Twice.