Illinois has never had much of an image nationwide. Montana is known for its outdoor landscape. Minnesota is known for its niceness. New Jersey is known for its suburban blight. But outside Chicago, we’re a bland state. During the 2005 World Series, Houston Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt appeared on “Late Night With David Letterman” to read a list of “Top 10 Perks of Getting Into the World Series.” Number 9: “Get to visit exotic, far-off destinations like Illinois.”
Thanks to Gov. Pat Quinn, though, we now have a nickname to rival New York’s (“The Empire State”) or Idaho’s (“Famous Potatoes.”) According to a columnist in Washington, Illinois is “The Deadbeat State.”
Wracked by corruption and drowning in debt, the state of Illinois has surpassed California as the national poster child for fiscal mismanagement. In desperation last January, state lawmakers approved a massive increase in the state’s personal and corporate income taxes.
Individual income taxes rose by 66 percent while corporate taxes increased 45 percent. Lawmakers also approved a two percent cap on spending increases, but acknowledged that higher pension and health care costs would more than absorb those increases, leaving state services and programs high and dry.
Governors of neighboring Indiana and Wisconsin responded by urging Illinois businesses to move their companies — and their jobs — to more business-friendly states.
Despite the tax increases, Illinois still has a $12 billion deficit, nearly half the state’s budget. That doesn’t count more than $60 billion in unfunded pension liabilities.
There simply is not enough money to pay the state’s obligations. In September, the stack of unpaid bills lying on the state comptroller’s desk totaled more than $5 billion.
The state’s solution? Don’t pay the bills. An Illinois newspaper has created a searchable online database of the state’s unpaid bills that is more than 3,000 pages long, listing more than 166,000 unpaid debts, some dating back to 2010.
So, why should we care what happens in Illinois? Because Illinois is a warning to us all.
So, why should we care about what some guy outside Seattle thinks of Illinois? Because when Illinois’s deadbeat reputation reaches that level, it’s like Old President Bush humming a Nicki Minaj song: it’s penetrated the nation’s consciousness as far as it can go. The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have written about our deadbeatness, but they’re supposed to notice these things. It’s even worse that this website says we’ve surpassed California. Washingtonians (and Oregonians) feel about California the way Wisconsinites feel about us.
All that’s left now is to change the license plates from “Land of Lincoln” to “The Deadbeat State” -- if we can afford the redesign.
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