Illinois' Financial Crisis Has Parallels in Greek Tragedies and Greek Politics

The financial crises for Chicago city government and Illinois state government aren't unique. Detroit, Puerto Rico and Greece all have or are currently struggling with problems that have similar roots to those of Illinois. Madeleine Doubek of Reboot Illinois wonders why Illinois leaders have offered only speeches and political gridlock as their own Greek tragedy plays out before their eyes.

We've known for several years now that big payments were due the Chicago teachers, police and fire pensions this year, and that Chicago Public School finances were tilting toward insolvency. And yet, school officials are making payments at the last second with money they don't really have after a dangerous deal to borrow from the teachers' pension fund fell apart. Now, school officials and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel are warning of more mid-year budget cuts to schools and blaming the crisis on Springfield.

We've known for many years that Illinois isn't paying its bills or funding its pensions properly. We're more than $100 billion behind on paying for pensions -- the worst in the nation -- and another $5 billion behind on paying for goods and services. And yes, lawmakers did pass one plan to try to fix the pension crisis, but it was found unconstitutional, something just about anyone who was watching the court a year ago saw coming when it issued a ruling saying public worker health care benefits must be covered by taxpayers.

We've known since, oh, I don't know, statehood in 1818 (she wrote facetiously), that there's often waste in government, especially in a state known for corruption, like Illinois. Perhaps the poster child for that waste was the $50 million spent on the Neighborhood Recovery Initiative that dominated political discussion most of last year.

We've known since last November that Democrats no longer control every aspect of state and Chicago government, when Republican Bruce Rauner won the governor's race by four percentage points while Democrats maintained their super majorities.

And what's happened since then? Rauner called for shared sacrifice, but proposed a budget more than $2 billion out of balance by offering up a pension plan that clearly wasn't going to work. Emanuel ran scared and won, avoiding talk of financial doomsdays as much as he could. House Speaker Michael Madigan and his fellow Democrats gave Rauner a budget that spends at least $3 billion more than the state will collect from taxpayers this year.

Read the rest of Doubek's thoughts at Reboot Illinois, including how she compares the city and the state to a house that has been set on fire.

One of the factors that could have contributed to this unfortunate state of affairs in state finances is the political fights that delay real solutions. Mark Fitton of the Illinois News Network says Rauner, Madigan and their supporters in Springfield are "locked in a battle of wills" that is getting "testy." Check out Reboot Illinois to see how the standoff between the two parties has escalated and what could happen next.


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