SPRINGFIELD – Every once in a while someone will ask, “Scott, why are you so critical of Illinois?”
My response is simple: I love it here. This is the state where I was born and where I was raised. During my adult life, I’ve lived in five states and the Land of Lincoln is hands down the best.
Mind you, a state is more than an amalgamation of laws and policies. It is people and land and opportunity.
Much the way spouses offer suggestions to one another, my criticism is done out of love.
The hog farm I grew up on near Galesburg is a world apart from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
But it’s enjoyable to take the train to the city and see Sue the Dinosaur at the Field Museum or chow down with my kids on a Giordano’s pizza in the Loop. I loved to take my Labrador retriever for long walks on the Ben Butterworth Parkway in Moline. (What an awe-inspiring view of the Mississippi!) I’m proud of the master’s degree I hold from one of the Prairie State’s universities.
Make no mistake about it. I’m an Illinoisan by choice. I want to see my three young daughters prosper in this great state.
But I worry.
I worry when I drive by the factories in my hometown and see their parking lots overgrown with weeds. Illinois ranks second in the nation for unemployment.
I’m concerned because Illinois public schools are failing our children. The state’s largest school district, Chicago Public Schools, has a graduation rate of only about 60 percent.
I’m ashamed that our state government fails to be fiscally responsible.
Illinois has more than $9 billion in unpaid bills, unfunded pension liabilities of nearly $100 billion and the worst credit rating in the nation.
Politicians of all stripes are to blame. But rather than focus on who is at fault, we need to focus on solutions. After all, Illinois isn’t hopeless.
If it were, I wouldn’t have chosen to raise my family here.
Here are some thoughts on the state’s current predicament:
Taxes – According to the Tax Foundation, Illinois taxpayers bear the fourth-highest burden in the nation. With 46 states offering more friendly environs to both people and businesses, the Prairie State needs to look at lowering rather than increasing taxes – if it wants to attract more people and business.
Education – Money should follow the student. Parents should be empowered to use education dollars to purchase the best available education for their youngster – public, private, online and public schools all should be among the options available.
Business – Instead of cutting sweetheart deals with big corporations, such as Sears, we need a state that fosters a positive environment for businesses large and small.
This can only be accomplished by creating an economy where all businesses – not just politically chosen ones – can benefit from low taxes and regulations.
Change never comes easy. But Illinois is worth the fight.
• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.