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Column

Wimbiscus: Welcome to 2019, a year certain to be uncertain

Well, 2018 is over, and not a minute too soon.

Between terrorist attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters and government scandals, there was not much to recommend about it.

Hmm, didn't I write that same lede last year?

Wait a minute, I'll check: "Well, 2017 is just about over, and not a minute too soon. Between terrorist attacks, mass shootings, natural disasters and government scandals, there's not much to recommend about it."

Wow. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Like 2017, 2018 was a year filled with suicide bombings (of course, since most happened in Third World countries they didn't get much press) and mass shootings (three schools, one synagogue and a newspaper office, all of which did get a lot of press), plus hurricanes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, as well as The Neverending Story of Donald in Wonderland.

So now, at the beginning of a new year, it's hard not to breathe a sigh of relief.

Except where I anticipated 2018 with a certain amount of hope, I can't help but feel a little uncertainty with what 2019 might bring.

Actually, I feel a lot of uncertainty.

We're pulling out of Syria and (after 17 years) drawing down in Afghanistan, which may or may not be a good thing. If these actions represent some sort of victory over terrorism, they seem to ring a little hollow. It's hard to believe we've seen the last of ISIS or the Taliban or whatever form of extremist yahoos evolve from their remnants.

The government has finally taken action on gun control. They went and banned bump stocks. And here I thought the bullets came out the other end.

And then there's the weather. The National Climate Assessment confirms that the climate changes initially projected in 2014 aren't going to be as bad as everyone thought – they're going to be worse.

All of the coastal flooding, droughts and superstorms we experienced last year are no longer the exception. They're now the rule.

That same looming chaos seems to have spilled over into the economy, at least if recent market volatility is any indication. The Dow, which dropped 5.6 percent last year, surged more than 1,000 points last week, dropped 399 points on Thursday and, as of 2:20 p.m. Friday, rose 720 points.

Gains are great, but gyrations are scary. And yet another reflection of uncertainty.

Fortunately we have a guy in charge who will tweet us through this tumult, a guy who exhorted in a 2016 foreign policy speech that "We have to be unpredictable."

And over the past two years, he's applied that same doctrine to nearly every issue he's confronted: Deregulation. Rapprochement with North Korea. Corporate and personal tax cuts. Troops to the Mexican border. Trade war with China. Shut down the government.

Love him or hate him (there's no in-between), President Trump is no less volatile than terrorism, the weather or the stock market. No one, including his own cabinet, knows what he's going to do next.

Which is why the last of the best of his personal handlers (Chief of Staff John Kelly, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis) up and quit last year. Just hope the guy who's minding the Red Button is still around.

Back here in Illinois, where common sense prevails, there is at least some level of certainty, something we can take for granted. And that thing is: We're broke.

The state's current budget deficit, now that we actually have a budget, is somewhere north of $14.6 billion.

Unfunded pension liabilities in Illinois equaled $73 billion (see Malcolm Berko's column on Page 11 for a more concise explanation). And that was in 2017. Since then, it's only gotten worse.

Fortunately the J.B. Pritzker, Illinois' governor-elect, has a plan to fix the problem. It's a tax plan, of course, and it's also top secret. It may involve a graduated income tax. It may involve a mileage tax. Maybe even a property tax hike. Who knows?

Pritzker knows, but he ain't saying, at least until after his inauguration on Jan. 14. So we have that to look forward to, as well.

Welcome to 2019, a year that certainly will be uncertain.

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