State representatives and senators were sworn in this week as Illinois’ 101st General Assembly began.
The Legislature will include some new faces this time, but the most familiar one is the most important; Democrats once again elected Michael Madigan, 76, of Chicago the speaker of the House, with only one of their 73 members voting “present.”
It’s almost certain that most constituents do not approve of Madigan’s performance as speaker. His approval rating among Illinoisans came in at 21 percent in a 2018 poll by the Paul Simon Institute for Public Policy.
On this issue, voters’ opinions don’t matter to Democrats. Madigan has been the speaker almost continuously since 1983, with only a two-year break in the 1990s, when Republicans took control of the Legislature.
In that time, he has become king of Illinois’ Democratic machine. He became chairman of the state Democratic Party in 1998 and was elected to a sixth term in that position in 2018.
His law firm, Madigan & Getzendanner, profits from representing corporate clients on property tax appeal cases.
Madigan controls millions in campaign cash, along with the power to appoint legislative committee chairmen – and he uses it to keep members in line. Representatives who cross the speaker can expect to have a well-financed challenger in the next Democratic primary. As the speaker, he decides what proposals see a vote and which die in committee – if anything is to get done, it must go through him.
Illinois Democrats make it clear again and again that Madigan is their leader. Yet, where has he led this state?
Illinois has some of the highest property taxes in the country, which isn’t such a bad thing if one way you make money is by appealing them. In 2017, the state’s income tax increased by 32 percent, but Illinois still struggles to pay the bills on time.
That’s partly because Illinois has the largest unfunded pension liability in the country – a problem exacerbated by past Madigan-backed measures for the state to skip or short more than $40 billion in payments to pension funds, while also enhancing pension benefits. With leaders eyeing a new capital plan to pay for road and bridge building and maintenance, more tax increases – possibly to the state’s motor fuel tax – may be on the horizon. Meanwhile, the Census Bureau reports that Illinois continues to lose population, with a net loss of more than 45,000 people in 2018.
None of the Democrats who nominated Madigan for speaker mentioned any of that in their glowing speeches.
So here is Illinois again. A new governor may be set to take office, but we expect business as usual from Springfield, as long as Madigan remains entrenched.