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National Editorial & Columnists

Illinois' work climate no joke

State still in weak position regarding jobs

It’s apparently easy to make fun of Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s attempt to lure Illinois businesses to the Lone Star State.

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel quipped that he hoped Perry remembered the three reasons he was visiting the Land of Lincoln. “It’ll be a real test for him,” Emmanuel said.

Gov. Pat Quinn said he thought Perry’s trip would be as successful “as his presidential campaign.” Perry’s presidential hopes did crash and burn, especially when he forgot during a debate the third area where he would reduce federal spending.

The sad truth is that the only defense Illinois has is to crack wise. Perry is selling more than Cotton-Eye Joe dance lessons and barbecue. His visit points out some real weaknesses in Illinois when it comes to retaining existing businesses and recruiting new ones.

Perry is not the first governor to prey on Illinois, nor will he be the last. In fact, Florida Gov. Rick Scott recently sent a letter to Illinois businesses to lure them to his state because of low taxes and a shrinking state deficit. The governors in the neighboring states of Iowa, Indiana and Wisconsin have all made forays into the state.

That merely points out that Illinois is in a weak position.

The state has recovered weakly from the recession. The state’s unemployment rate is 9.5 percent, second highest in the U.S., and the state lost nearly 18,000 jobs in March from the previous month. The Texas unemployment rate is 6.4 percent and dropping.

But more important to job creators than the state’s current economic condition is the uncertainty over the future.

Illinois state government has shown an inability, or an unwillingness, to properly manage the state’s finances. Illinois faces a $100 billion underfunded pension system, and lawmakers have failed to address the issue. In addition, the state owes about $8 billion to businesses and agencies that provide goods and services to the state.

Rating agencies have placed Illinois’ bonds at near junk status, costing taxpayers millions of additional dollars. Last month, the Securities and Exchange Commission said the state committed fraud when dealing with bond buyers during the Blagojevich administration.

Meanwhile, other states have reduced deficits, in many cases lowered taxes, and reduced spending. Illinois has increased taxes and failed to get its financial house in order.

CEOs of companies, both in and out of state, have to be fearful that the future will bring an increase in taxes and fees on businesses and on their employees.

That’s not to say that Illinois has nothing to offer. The state is arguably the transportation center of the nation, and its work force has traditionally been a strong one. But can those strengths outweigh the weaknesses of our state government and the near certainty that individuals and businesses are going to be tapped for additional revenues? Perry and the other governors are betting it won’t.

The competition for jobs by states is a fierce one. The reason is simple — the least painful way to make a state economically stronger is to attract additional jobs. Some of that growth can come from creating new jobs, but states also look to nab jobs from other, weaker states.

Perry argued during his visit to Chicago and in an accompanying $80,000 ad campaign that Texas was a pro-business state and Illinois is not. It’s hard to disagree with him.

The efforts by Perry and others are not a joking matter, although humor may be the only defense. The Legislature needs to wake up and realize it has to address those issues so Illinois can become a serious competitor in the battle for jobs, and not the prey.

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