Trolling for martyrs

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Tough June for insolvent Illinois, the deadbeat state.

First, Moody's Investor Services whacks the state with yet another downgrade of its creditworthiness. Moody's criticizes "a chronic lack of political will that indicates further erosion of an already weak financial position."

And that was the love note. The subsequent downgrade of Illinois bonds by Fitch Ratings arrives with testier sentiments: "The state has not demonstrated the political willingness to take action during the fiscal crisis to restructure its budget to achieve balance, and has relied almost exclusively on borrowing to close its sizeable budget gaps. … The state's debt burden is rising and additional borrowing is expected."

Dangerous words, "additional borrowing." Smart citizens nationwide — worldwide, really — are in a fury about the immense public debts they owe: liabilities that threaten to bury their futures, their children's and their grandchildren's.

And where is Gov. Pat Quinn in all of this? He's trolling for martyrs — lawmakers who would doom taxpayers to still more bonding by the billions. But Quinn and his fellow Democrats aren't getting the political cover they want: a handful of Senate Republicans complicit in passing Quinn's latest borrowpalooza. That $3.7 billion would go not for some long-term investment (new highways, say) but for a basic operating expense, the state's payment into its unaffordably generous pension system.

The Illinois House agreed to this outrage. But when the Senate didn't, legislators fled town, leaving behind a goofy budget that is billions out of balance.

What's missing here is an honest admission from Illinois politicians that they've committed taxpayers to costly obligations that now need to be restructured, downsized or eliminated. House Speaker Michael Madigan, Senate President John Cullerton and Quinn don't want yesterday's foolish decisions to have unpopular consequences today.

They've had the better part of two years to reinvent Illinois by, to cite one option among many you've read here and elsewhere, reducing pension benefits that current employees earn going forward. Instead, Madigan, Cullerton and Quinn have pretended that some gullywasher of new revenue, currently imaginable only by them, will materialize to cover all these unsustainable expenses.

So they scheme to borrow and keep borrowing — at least until the Nov. 2 election is history and, they hope, they can engineer a big tax increase.

Maybe there really are enough martyrs in the General Assembly who want to end their careers on Pat Quinn's rising mountain of taxpayer debt.

Of course, that sort of recklessness might convince voters that they want a new governor.

And a new legislature, too.