Rauner says lllinois' hopes, heart rest with small businesses
If Illinois loses its small businesses, it loses its backbone, according to Gov. Bruce Rauner, who lamented the loss of such businesses and urged lawmakers to come together to make it stop.
“This is critically, critically important,” Rauner said at a press conference in the Hegewisch neighborhood of Chicago recently. “Whether we’re talking about unbalanced budget or needing to properly funds our schools and our human services – which we absolutely have to do – these are not just sound bite for the media. This is not just a political fight. This is about people’s lives.”
Rauner was joined by Bob Wisz, president of the Hegewisch Business Association, and several local business owners.
“These guys are the tax base,” Rauner said. “These guys create the jobs and pay the taxes that support our government, our human services [and] our schools. If they can’t make it [and] if they can’t compete because the environment here in Illinois is not attractive and competitive, we won’t have a good future for the people of Illinois, and we will never have balanced budgets in the future.”
Illinois has been consistently ranked at the bottom for small business friendliness, and its high property taxes have stunted economic and job growth. People and businesses are moving to nearby states such as Indiana.
“Our number one burden … is our property tax burden," Rauner said. "We have the highest property taxes in America. We are literally two minutes from the Indiana border, and property taxes over in Indiana are between a half and a third on average of the property taxes for the same type of property here in the state of Illinois. That makes it unaffordable to compete here. That forces [businesses] to have higher prices to cover the high property taxes here. Customers can go across the border and have cheaper costs in large part because the property taxes are cheaper.
Henry Smith, owner of the restaurant and bar called The Green Olive, has seen local businesses leave because of the hostile business climate in the state. He recently witnessed the closure of a local pizza restaurant in which the owner invested hundreds of thousands of dollars to maintain strict business regulations, only to give up and leave.
“It’s pretty tough to see a business and someone striving just trying to get their dream and opening up a business on their own, and now it’s gone," Smith said. "It's gone."
Wisz reminded the state that small neighborhoods can still be a viable area for growth.
“We have opportunities [here]," Wisz said. "We’ve got the second-safest neighborhood in the city of Chicago. We’ve got tremendous housing values. We’ve got a workforce that’s got a great work ethic, and they are looking for jobs. They want to be trained. They want to have the top-notch jobs at Ford and beyond. We’ve got opportunities.”
The state needs to focus on reforms that will help spur growth and prosperity because Illinois has made it impossible for businesses to be competitive, and people are leaving, Rauner claimed.
“We’re not competitive," he said. "That pushes our sales out. That pushes our businesses out. We’re not competitive, and as a result, our tax base erodes, and we don’t have the tax revenue to support a balanced budget and to fund our schools and human services. This is the challenge. We have to become competitive so we can afford to become compassionate.”