What do you get when even the perceived sober truth tellers don't really tell the truth?
What do you get when political leaders refuse to lead, refuse to compromise, and refuse to see beyond the next election?
Here's what you get: the sorry state of Illinois.
Who's to blame? A lot of the same old suspects you see in a lot of states, especially the politicians and state worker unions.
But in the case of Illinois, a new villain has come onto the scene in guise of the sober, supposedly truth-telling entities known as the ratings agencies.
First off, let's look at some of the ugly details. Illinois finally did pass a budget Thursday evening, ending a two-year impasse. But the damage is still massive as the state has $15 billion in unpaid bills. It has a staggering $251 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, in a widely quoted and accepted figure according to the Illinois Policy Institute. And in what may be the most obvious public embarrassment, Illinois even suspended its participation in the the Powerball and Mega Millions lotteries because it couldn't guarantee its share of the jackpot payouts.
Enter Moody's and Standard & Poor's. Things started to change earlier this year as soon as those agencies started to say that they may make Illinois the first U.S. state with a "junk" rating on its debt. S&P even inched the state's credit rating to just one notch above junk in June.
Suddenly, things started to move. Even though new budget measures proposed by the Democrats included a whopping personal income tax rate increase of 32 percent and a corporate tax rate increase of 33 percent, the ratings agencies urged all the lawmakers to vote for the deal.