For a native son of the Midwest who has sympathized with the Southern states in the War of Northern Aggression for as far back as he can remember, I can see why some Southerners might find a certain justice in the impending fiscal collapse of the state that launched Abraham Lincoln, coming as it has at the start of the 150th anniversary of the Late Unpleasantness.

And I might even agree, had my family and I not moved to Illinois a little over 15 years ago.  Instead, I am left with a bitter taste in my mouth and a sense of foreboding for my family and for the hometown that we have adopted.

On January 12, Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed into law a tax hike of 66 percent on personal income (from a 3-percent flat rate to 5 percent) and 45 percent on corporate income (from 4.8 percent to 7 percent).  The vote on the tax increases ran along party lines; not a single Republican in the Illinois legislature voted in favor of the new tax rates.

National coverage of the tax hikes varied in quality: The Christian Science Monitor blew the story, claiming that “Even with the 2011 adjustments, Illinois would have one of the lowest tax rates in the nation,” though the reporter must have suspected something was wrong, since he added that “the rates across the US are hard to pin down because most states, such as Iowa, have up to nine different tax rates for personal income.”

The Wall Street Journal, on the other hand, recognized the truth: The 7-percent corporate tax really amounts to 9.5 percent, because Illinois has since 1980 imposed an additional 2.5 percent “personal property replacement tax” on corporations.  That, as Scott Hodge, president of the Tax Foundation, informed the Journal, catapults Illinois to the third-highest corporate income-tax rate in the country, up from number 21 last year.

The tax hikes are designed to close a $15 billion budget gap in the current fiscal year, but if they increase the flight of both citizens and businesses out of Illinois, the projected revenue increases will come up short.

Illinois Republicans were quick to criticize the tax hikes, but they played their own role in getting the state to this point.  They offered no viable spending cuts to bring the budget back into balance.  For years, they went along with dramatic increases in pensions for state employees, and now, as the Christian Science Monitor noted, “Illinois is facing $77.8 billion in underfunded pension liabilities,” which makes it “the largest underfunded pension system in the United States.”

Republican as well as Democratic governors funded current spending not with current income but with massive bond issues, which allowed the state to spend beyond its means while pushing the day of reckoning off into a future that is now arriving.  Former Gov. Rod Blagojevich, who (with the willing collusion of Republican as well as Democratic legislators) raised such fiscal shenanigans to an art form, ought to thank his lucky stars that federal prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald forced his removal from office.

The Christian Science Monitor noted that social-service agencies are owed eight billion dollars by the state, but it didn’t note that much of that money has been promised to healthcare providers, many of which are in danger of folding should the state default on its obligations.  The collapse of healthcare institutions would devastate a state economy that already suffers from 9.8 percent unemployment.

Yet there is no sign that lawmakers have learned their lesson.  The Christian Science Monitor, in another example of astoundingly bad analysis, reported that “State Democrats lauded the package for an extra twist: A spending cap would limit state spending through 2015.  If lawmakers were caught exceeding the new limits, the new tax rates would revert to their original rates.”

Sounds good, right?  Well, it would if legislators were required to fund current spending with current income.  But as taxpayers flee the state and revenue fails to meet projections, the legislature will continue to make up the difference with bonds, extending the crisis into the future.

The danger lies less in increasing spending than in maintaining current levels of spending.  Yet the unfunded pension liabilities and the debt on previous bond issues means that the ability to cut spending is limited, even if lawmakers of either party had the political willpower to do so.

Here in Rockford, where the local unemployment rate is almost double the state’s, these tax increases may be the final straw.  I’ll have more to say about that next month, but for now I cannot help but find it significant that these “emergency” tax rates are set to expire in 2015, the 150th anniversary of the end of the War Between the States.

The South may not rise again, but the Land of Lincoln could be in for quite a fall.