The State of Illinois’ Long Term Decline

Barack Obama’s home state is in the news but not for positive reasons. Fitch downgraded Illinois debt. At the end of March, according to the Bond Buyer:

Fitch Ratings late Monday downgraded Illinois’ general obligation rating one notch to A-minus and warned of possible further action by leaving the state’s credit on negative watch ahead of $1.3 billion of short- and long-term GO issuance in three deals over the coming weeks.
Gov. Pat Quinn had hoped that the General Assembly’s passage last week of pension reforms would stave off any negative rating actions and buy the state some additional time to address a nearly $13 billion budget deficit and liquidity crisis in the current legislative session.

Fitch isn’t Illinois’ only problem. The Chicago Tribune wrote a devastating editorial concerning Illinois’ economic performance:

once-thriving Illinois in February had 475,000 fewer jobs than it did in November 2000. Even replacing every one of those jobs wouldn't fix the sorry state of this state: Factoring in population growth over the last decade, Illinois needs 600,000 new jobs just to get the employment level back to where it was. The cumulative cost to Springfield of those lost jobs: $6 billion in tax revenues through fiscal '09 and, barring some miracle, $10 billion through fiscal '11.

Illinois politicians keep trying to blame job losses on the Great Recession. But this is only the latest bad patch in two decades during which Illinois has lagged the nation at growing jobs. Geoffrey Hewings, head of the U. of I.'s Regional Economics Applications Laboratory, says something else has to explain why Illinois unemployment keeps running well above the national rate: "Our economy looks like the U.S. economy" in terms of its blend of manufacturing, service and other sectors. "Yet since 1990, we've underperformed the U.S. in job creation."

In fact, for the decade before this recession began, other researchers have pegged Illinois' job creation rate at 48th in the U.S., ahead of moribund Ohio and Michigan. Can't blame recession for that.

Illinois lawmakers spent much of the last 20 years treating private-sector employers as if they were stupid — unable to understand that they and their workers eventually would have to pay for too much state spending, borrowing and promises of future obligations — none more egregious than the now severely underfunded retirement benefits for public employees.

This kind of editorial might scare away future business expansion in Illinois. It wasn’t easy for the Tribune to write this one because it’s so negative that it even might scare advertisers away. But, the truth can’t be ignored much longer. Special interest groups are thriving, but taxpayers are not. The long time Illinois Speaker of House is more responsible than any individual for Illinois’ persistent financial problems. Illinois declines, but Madigan’s property tax appeals law firm thrives.

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running all private employers out of state

I can think of twenty private firms (of various kinds, from small law firms to a dry ice manufacturer) that have relocated to Northwest Indiana in the last couple of years. They can still serve their Illinois clients without the high cost of doing business in Illinois. They may not be big companies with huge amounts of jobs, but some have done well since relocation and have expanded, something they couldn't do in Illinois. But it's probably 60 new jobs that Illinois took a pass on by being stupid in driving these firms to Indiana.

Tax rates and costs make a big difference on where business locates. Whole Foods put it's regional headquarters and distribution warehouse on the border in Munster, Indiana. Note that Whole Foods has NO retail locations in Northwest Indiana, and has no plans to open locations (they would likely fail in the NW Indiana market) anytime soon, but they put the warehouse (and HQ) in Indiana to lower costs.