Two years ago, when voters nationwide delivered a stinging rebuke to a Democratic president and his party, the state of Illinois was a deep blue outlier: Not even the lingering scent of the Rod Blagojevich scandal could cost Democrats the governorship or either chamber in the General Assembly.
That left House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to parlay their clout into new district maps intended to solidify their majorities.
The pattern Tuesday night was abundantly clear:
Democrats had virtually locked in their Springfield majorities before the first voters cast the first early ballots on Oct. 22. More than half of those legislative races weren’t even contested by both major parties. And while some of the new district boundaries gave Republicans tremendous advantage, the aggregate effect was to keep Illinois and its 12.8 million citizens under one-party rule.
Voters evidently like it that way.
Still, we can’t help but wonder whether Illinois Democrats on Tuesday won a victory that’s Pyrrhic. Madigan and Cullerton, with more than seven decades of legislative tenure between them, have been present at the creation of so many expenses, and so many future obligations, that now threaten their state’s future.
Yes, the Prairie State is theirs.
And so are its problems.
Nothing in Tuesday’s numbers reduced the nearly $200 billion in debts and unfunded obligations that state government has laid in the laps of those 12.8 million citizens.
Democratic leaders have been utterly unable to tame the most dangerous risk facing Illinois: The notorious pension indebtedness that rises somewhere above $83 billion. After Tuesday’s vote, that indebtedness remains as dangerous as ever.
The billions of dollars owed to vendors who have already delivered supplies, and to social services agencies that care for our disadvantaged fellow citizens? No change.
The lousy credit ratings that raise the cost of selling Illinois securities? Intact.
The taxes that push employers to create jobs elsewhere? Undiminished.
We don’t know how, or even whether, the ruling Democrats hope to extricate Illinois and its taxpayers from these predicaments. The 2011 income tax increase that was sold as a way to pay those old bills and that debt interest? The new revenue, $7 billion a year, barely covers state government’s pension costs.
We do, though, know who owns these and all the other problems facing the government, and the people, of Illinois.
Speaker Madigan, Senate President Cullerton, congratulations.