This is a post for people who are a little worried about Illinois' economy and kind of like the vague idea that we should improve it by shaking things up.
I want to explain why I'm voting for Pat Quinn and the Democratic ticket.
There's one big problem with Illinois: underfunded public pensions.
We have a huge economy (about the size of Saudi Arabia). People move here for economic opportunities. We draw in most of the talent from the Midwest. But our public pensions for teachers, professors, bureaucrats and other workers is short what it needs to pay out. Imagine a mortgage on a house where payments have been short for years. Suddenly, to keep the house out of foreclosure, you have to make double or triple monthly payments. It's a big deal problem, but it is solvable.
No one has done more than Pat Quinn (and the Democratic majority) to solve this problem.
Because they have raised more money from a higher income tax and -- here's the important part -- put those billions into those underfunded public pensions every year when it would have been much easier and politically popular not to.
If Illinois has this kind of responsible leadership in the 50s or 60s or 70s or 80s or 90s or 2000s of making full pension payments, there wouldn't be a pension problem today. We can moan about it and try to blame somebody, but the facts are facts, so we're the ones who have to make more payments not to catch up for the sins of decades past.
It would have been easier for Pat Quinn to keep taxes low or to spend more money on education or health care or capital investments. No one gets excited about the state making a huge pension payment. There is no political benefit to making a massive pension payment. None. It's just the responsible thing to do for the long-term benefit of our state.
Pat Quinn and the Democratic majorities in the General Assembly have made that politically difficult and incredible responsible choice to put billions into the pension fund. The percentage of our state budget that we spend on pension payments is the highest in the country -- by a lot. It's about 22%. That's a heavy price to pay. But the point is: we are paying it! Because that's responsible. That's how we fix the problem. And it is Pat Quinn and the Democratic majorities who are the responsible ones that are taking a short-term political hit to do the right thing.
For that reason alone, they deserve re-election.
Facts versus Fables
On top of that, Pat Quinn and a majority of Democratic legislators voted to reduce pension benefits. This was incredibly unpopular. This caused, essentially, a civil war in the Democratic Party since the Democratic Party is all about increasing income for regular people through expanded pensions like Social Security.
But because the pension system have been underfunded for decades (like skipping mortgage payments for years....and now you have to make triple payments), even with the huge increase in pension payments, the benefit increases need to be reduced.
This was a Democratic vote. A majority of Republican legislators voted against that bill.
Bruce Rauner actively campaigned against the bill and said very publicly that legislators should not vote for it. He is still campaigning against it. Check out what he is telling the University of Illinois Alumni Association: Rauner is saying the pension reform bill was a horrible idea and the way to solve the problem....is through economic growth! Not through making full pension payments or by reducing pension benefits....just through economic growth! Magic beans!
For that reason alone, Bruce Rauner deserves to be rejected. He was -- and remains -- blazingly irresponsible. On the biggest fiscal problem facing our state, Rauner ducks and dodges and tries to score short-term political points by bashing the only responsible effort to solve the pension underfunding.
Now, I get the appeal. The dude is rich. And he made it himself. He may have made it in some super-shady ways by sucking value out of companies and enriching himself and his associates...but still, there is something impressive about a self-made billionaire.
And when a self-made billionaire salesman says "hey, trust me, I can make the whole state rich too" -- that sounds pretty nice.
But it's a fable.
Fables are fun. They are comforting. They lull us into complacency. Rauner's fable is that he can bring back prosperity because he's a billionaire ... that we can cut taxes and increase spending ... and that if we "shake up Springfield", we can "bring back Illinois." What does that mean? Who cares! It's a fable! Just believe it!
It's a lot easier to blame "corrupt politicians" and "insiders" for underfunded pension funds than it is to make a full pension payment and to reduce pension benefits. It's a lot more popular to tell an average voter that all we have to do is take out the insider politicians and then things will get better than it is to tell the average voter that we're all going to pay an extra 2% or so of our income and retirees are going to get a smaller pension.
A crafty salesman will say anything to close a deal. A responsible person will tell the truth and do the hard thing to solve problems.
Bruce Rauner is selling a fable. Pension reform is bad. Increasing the income tax is bad. Politicians are bad. And I'm good. If you elect me, everything is going to work out.
Pat Quinn and the Democratic majority are solving the problems and explaining how the responsible steps are hard steps. That we're solving the underfunded pension systems by finally making full (and difficult) payments from a higher income tax. And we're reducing benefits. But we're on the path to solving them.
That's the long-range, long-term, responsible stewardship we deserve from our leaders. And that's why I'm rejecting the short-term sales job of the Rauner fable and rewarding the responsibility of Pat Quinn and the Democratic majority by voting for the Democratic ticket.
I really hope you do the same.