Illinois Democrats are demanding $41 billion from the federal government for coronavirus relief, including $10 billion for Illinois’s cash-strapped and underfunded public pension plan. The most fiscally mismanaged state in the union, which has criminally neglected funding its public pension fund for two decades, wants Washington to pull its chestnuts out of the fire?
Certainly, states should get something. But what Illinois is asking for is shocking.
“I realize I’ve asked for a lot, but this is an unprecedented situation, and we face the reality that there likely will be additional, unanticipated costs that could result in future requests for assistance,” Harmon wrote on behalf of the state senate Democratic caucus.
Harmon’s federal wish list for the second phase of federal coronavirus relief includes $15 billion in block grant funding to shore up the state’s spending plans for this fiscal year and the next two.
The Oak Park Democrat also asked for $10 billion for the state’s desperately underfunded pension plans.
A block grant is a blank check. Harmon wants the taxpayers to put $15 billion in the hands of state Democrats to spend as they wish?
Illinois Republicans were, quite rightly, beside themselves, accusing Democrats in a tweet of “brazenly using a global pandemic as an excuse to ask the [federal government] to bail them out of the fiscal disaster they manufactured over the last two decades.” And that goes double for the pension fund. The state was going to have to ask the federal government for a pension bailout even before the pandemic. Now, they have an excuse.
Governor J.D. Pritzker played dumb about the request.
Harmon’s spokesman said the letter was shared with Pritzker and Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, though they weren’t directly involved in drafting it.
At the governor’s daily coronavirus briefing Saturday, Pritzker distanced himself from Harmon’s requests, saying he “was not aware of the content of the letter” before it was sent.
“There’s no reason why a senate president in Illinois can’t send a letter to the delegation. I don’t object to people communicating with our federal representatives. I do it all the time,” Pritzker said.
“It’s different than what I have been talking to the federal representatives about,” he continued. “I really believe the state’s need to have some unencumbered dollars that come in that will help us with the coming year’s budget — every state has this problem.”
“Unencumbered dollars” is another way of saying “blank check.” You can imagine Pritzker and the Democrats licking their chops at the prospect of all that cash landing in their laps.
There should be no bailout of the public pension fund in Illinois. For two decades, which have seen Democrats largely in control, the state refused to fully fund its pension system. Now, with the stock market in the toilet and the shortfall becoming critical, the bill for Illinois politicians’ criminal negligence and shady dealings is coming due.
The only problem is, state workers will also pay. And Illinois Democrats will make sure that Washington gets the blame if no bailout of the pension system is forthcoming.