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Viewpoint: Illinois is falling flat on its face

The 2018 elections will prove whether or not there is hope for the state going forward

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The Land of Lincoln is in trouble.

Illinois is falling flat on its face and quickly becoming one of the worst states in the country. This didn’t happen overnight. Republican governor Bruce Rauner is just one of the many powerful individuals responsible for the crisis.

Bruce Rauner during his inauguration ceremony in 2015. (Image: Staff Sgt. Lealan Buehrer via Wikimedia Commons)

Under his tenure, Illinois went without a budget for two years. The stalemate between Illinois Democrats and Republicans left the state in disarray. And though the two sides mercifully came to an agreement in July, the impact of the budget impasse will be felt for years to come.

There is more than enough blame to go around on both sides of the political spectrum, but it’s important to understand the specific policies and actions of those in power that led Illinois down this path. Governor Rauner inherited a mess.

His failure to act as the true leader decimated the state economy beyond belief. According to the governor, none of this is his fault. In fact, he believes that he’s not even in charge of Illinois.

In a soundbite that will likely live in campaign ad infamy, Rauner said “I am not in charge” in reference to his ongoing fued with longtime Speaker of the House Michael Madigan.

The governor said he would like to be in charge, but he failed to explain how he’s been overruled by the Speaker. This comment came at the end of another embarrassing year in Illinois in which the governor failed to act as a leader and only solidified his destiny as a one-term wonder.

He’s certainly not the only person to blame in this catastrophe, but his lack of accountability shows he’s not the person to run a state in deep financial turmoil. The election won’t come until later this year, but Rauner will face a significant threat from any of the top three Democratic primary challengers.

Nevertheless, the damage has been done. And those who flocked from Illinois aren’t going to want to come back to a state with one of the worst economies in the United States. It will take years, if not decades, for Illinois to recover from the two-year budget impasse that wreaked havoc on the working class and virtually the entire state.

The 2018 state elections will be critical to getting the state back on the right path. Billionaire JB Pritzker is the likely candidate to take on Rauner in November, but that will be decided by Democratic primary voters in March. While most elected officials have thrown their support to Pritzker, a contested primary could be good for the state.

But blame for the issues in Illinois are certainly not solely the fault of the Republican party.

Joseph Berrios, the Cook County assessor, has long been considered one of the most corrupt politicians in Illinois. His office determines property taxes for all residents in Cook County, which includes millions of Illinois residents predominately in the Chicago and suburban areas.

Berrios was recently the subject of a ProPublica and Chicago Tribune investigation that determined his office often gives unfair assessments to property owners around the county. The reports were especially damaging as they provide evidence that the county unfairly taxed poor residents and people of color.

Berrios is facing tremendous opposition about these developments, though the Democratic establishment has been quiet about the controversy. Democrats would be wise to distance themselves from Berrios, but that doesn’t seem likely. As property taxes go up, residents either migrate out of Cook County to other parts of Illinois or out of the state altogether.

And the unfair taxes aren’t limited to property owners either. Cook County recently passed (and then later revoked) a sugary beverage tax that charged consumers a penny more per ounce in drinks containing sugar and other potentially unhealthy ingredients.

It’s not a shocker that Illinois lost more residents in 2016 than any other state, but the common mistake is to blame one political party for this mess. For years, both parties have been developing detrimental policies that have culminated in a financial crisis that has people fleeing the state. It’s clear that change will need to happen to save Illinois and repair the damage that has been done.

The 2018 elections will prove whether or not there is hope for the state going forward. And with time, if all goes right, maybe Illinois can begin to win back people’s trust.

Lauren Grimaldi is a senior political science student at Roosevelt University in Chicago. She is the Editor-in-Chief of the Roosevelt Torch, the school's student run newspaper. When she graduates in May, she hopes to find work in policy reform, political campaigns, or writing. Follow her on Twitter @laurengrimaldi_ to learn more about her obsession with politics and baseball.

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