Quinn’s answer to fiscal crisis? Raise minimum wage.
ACCORDING TO MYTH, the much maligned Roman Emperor Nero occupied himself fiddling as he watched what is known as the Great Fire of Rome. True or not, the imagery has become synonymous with tuned-out leaders who look the other way when confronted with big problems.
Which brings us to Pat Quinn, the abominable governor of Illinois.
He rose to deliver his “State of the State” address Wednesday night, amid considerable national interest in what he would have to say about Illinois’ pressing fiscal problems. State government’s slide toward bankruptcy is accelerating. The state’s financial rating has been lowered. Again. Arguably, Illinois is in worse fiscal shape than any other state. The word “crisis” — overused as it is — fits for Illinois.
SO QUINN TOOK to the podium to talk about raising the minimum wage. About banning certain kinds of guns. About asking legislators to pass tougher conflict-of-interest laws for politicians — fat chance, on that one.
Well. What’s to be expected from the former lieutenant governor who found himself sitting in the big chair only because the law caught up with Rod Blagojevich? And then stayed in the job because Illinois is so dominated by Chicago Democrats, who apparently would vote for a shaggy dog if it had a “D” after its name.
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: The position of lieutenant governor offers the worst of all situations and ought to be scrapped. Voters largely ignore the understudy on the ticket. So, when a governor does his job legally and doesn’t die, the lieutenant governor is nothing but an expensive potted plant — costing taxpayers millions while doing no work at all, unless you’re inclined to count smiling and cutting ribbons. But if a governor turns out to be a crook, or dies, or quits, the do-nothing — and, often, know-nothing — lieutenant governor suddenly is awakened and told to sit in the big chair.
And we wonder why they fail.
In some states, there are efforts to do away with wasteful lieutenant governors. Wisconsin and Illinois should join that movement.
WHAT DRIVES THE fiscal mess in Illinois, of course, is too much spending and too many unfunded promises. The financial debacle threatens the most important government spending — school funding, for example, and road building — because dollars are drying up and lenders are increasingly worried about a deadbeat state that can’t even pay its vendors on time.
If there’s a number-one problem it’s this: Illinois has an unfunded liability for public employee pensions of about $100 billion. Yet Quinn has no solution, and his fellow Democrats in the General Assembly probably wouldn’t pay any attention even if he did.
Who knows? They might even get together and decide to raise taxes again. That was the last big idea, when Illinois raised personal income taxes by 67 percent and business taxes by 50 percent, then promptly reported an even larger deficit because the elected officials couldn’t find a nickel to cut anywhere.
It has been said that people get the government they deserve.
Illinoisans elected these wonderful public servants.
A FINAL WORD: In some circles Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker might as well have devil’s horns sprouting from his head. While we, too, have objected to some of his actions and, more particularly, his tactics, give Walker credit for moving Wisconsin away from the fiscal brink. While Illinois rides the fiscal Titanic, Wisconsin deposits budget surplus money into a rainy-day fund. That’s quite a contrast.