THE BLOG
12/30/2015 06:24 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2016

Illinois' Top 5 Biggest Fails From 2015

If you live in Illinois you know there's no shortage of fodder for "fails" in our state over the year. We've chosen 10 to highlight and recap from the year that was.

Check out our Top 10 big Illinois fails along with some brief background on each. Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments at the very bottom of this post.

Pension reform

We own the worst unfunded pension liability in the nation and this was the year we found out there aren't any easy fixes.

In May, the Illinois Supreme Court unanimously ruled the 2013 pension reform law unconstitutional, largely because it violated the pension protection clause outlined in the Illinois Constitution (Article XIII, Section 5):

Membership in any pension or retirement system of the State, any unit of local government or school district, or any agency or instrumentality thereof, shall be an enforceable contractual relationship, the benefits of which shall not be diminished or impaired. 

Supporters of the law argued the pension debt threaten school funding and other essential government services as it gobbles up more and more of annual government spending, constituting an emergency. Ultimately, though, the Illinois Supreme Court decision reiterated to lawmakers that they couldn't disregard the state constitution simply because it made things too difficult, especially given the fact the 2011 temporary income tax hike was allowed to expire rather than extended or made permanent.

As of December 2015, the state's unfunded pension liability has grown to $111 billion, according to the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability, and little discussion among top politicians has occurred about the debt since the May decision.

Illinois state budget

Illinois has been operating without a state budget for half of the fiscal year.

Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner and legislative Democrats remain deadlocked over ideological differences. Rauner wants to implement pro-business reforms and cost-saving measures as part of the budget deal, but Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan has deemed them "non-budget issues." Democrats want money for state services beyond the $32.5 billion estimated to be available, but Rauner won't discuss new revenue until some of the items in his "Turnaround" agenda are passed, including workers compensation reform and a property tax freeze.

In the meantime, state government continues to operate by continuing appropriations and court orders while the state's bill backlog piles up and business, social service providers and colleges and universities suffer without state aid.

Laquan McDonald shooting

It was 2014 when 17-year-old Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times and killed by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke, but it took 400 days and most of 2015  for officials to release the police dashcam video depicting the shooting death and to charge Van Dyke with first-degree murder. Uproar, protests and continuing questions about the handling of the investigation and other Chicago police shootings led to the firing of the city's police chief, Garry McCarthy, as well as Scott Ando, the head of the Independent Police Review Authority that investigates police misconduct. Thus far, both Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel have resisted calls to step down. Emanuel was just re-elected in April, while Alvarez faces a three-way Democratic primary next March.

Rahm Emanuel

The entire year been brutal for Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who started off 2015 by failing to win another four-year term outright. He faced a runoff election against Cook County Board Commissioner Jesus "Chuy" Garcia and won. Since then, Emanuel has failed to gain traction in Springfield for aid for the deficit-ridden Chicago Public School system and for the city's failing finances. He continues to be the subject of calls for resignation for keeping the Laquan McDonald shooting video underwraps at the same time he was seeking re-election and for police killings since. A Democratic state lawmaker went so far as to introduce a "Recall Rahm" measure in the General Assembly.

2016 is not looking bright for the notoriously brash Emanuel as protests and police corruption questions continue and the Chicago Teachers Union is marching closer to its second strike in four years if its demands are not met.

Barbara Byrd-Bennett

And that brings us to Emanuel's hand-picked former schools chief, former CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. She pleaded guilty in October to one count of wire fraud for her role in a contract-rigging scheme. Byrd-Bennett awarded more than $23 million in a no-bid contract to her former employer, SUPES Academy, in exchange for kickbacks and other perks. SUPES Academy was hired to train principals in the school system.

Referring to her grandchildren in one of the emails to SUPES officials demanding kickbacks as part of the scheme, she wrote, "I have tuition to pay and casinos to visit."

Byrd-Bennett won't be visiting casinos for long. Under her plea deal, Byrd-Bennett faces up to 7.5 years in federal prison.

Click here to see the 5 other epic fails for Illinois in 2015 here.

NEXT ARTICLE: Illinois' Top 10 Wins from 2015

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