State legislators deemed indifferent to business woes
Members of the Illinois Manufacturers' Association are dumbfounded by the lack of business reform progress by the General Assembly, the group's president and CEO Greg Baise said in a radio interview with "Illinois Rising" recently.
“They are incredulous,” Baise said. “(Legislators) do not recognize what they are doing to this state. We can talk about revenues, how they are going to be spent, what we need, what is the level of taxation, but as we said all spring, let’s be talking about what is going to offset those kinds of increased costs by making Illinois a more friendly place to do business.”
Illinois has consistently ranked at the bottom in terms of business friendliness. High property taxes and an almost antagonistic workers' compensation system have deterred some businesses from developing in the state and forced others to leave.
Recently, Foxconn Technology, the Taiwanese multinational electronics company known for making Apple, Nintendo and Sony products, agreed to build a $10 billion plant in Wisconsin. The company is also planning to develop a research and development facility in Michigan, possibly creating more than 13,000 for that state.
Illinois was never even in the conversation, and many experts, including Baise, blame the state’s business environment.
“I’ve been traveling the state all spring and making speech after speech about the fact that Illinois is closing one day at a time ... the evidence of these policies is right in front of our face,” Baise said. “The fact that the states around us are growing manufacturing jobs numbering in the 70, 80 or 100 thousand since the recession of 2008 or 2009 … how much more evidence does it take that the trajectory that this state is on is absolutely the wrong one.”
The statistics support Baise's comments. Illinois' job growth is the lowest in the Midwest, increasing by only 0.9 percent from June 2016 to June 2017, according to data from the Illinois Department of Employment Security. The national average is 1.5 percent, and Illinois is the only state in the region with a rate below 1 percent.
Many pundits point to the harsh workers' compensation laws as the impetus for companies abandoning Illinois.
“Workers' compensation ... people hear about and they sort of roll their eyes and they really don’t get what it is all about,” Baise said. “But what it’s about is that our cost in the state on the medical side is extraordinarily out of balanced compared to our neighbors. The indemnity costs, meaning what is rightly owed to an injured worker to help them get back on their feet, is extraordinarily out of balance compared to our surrounding states.”
Baise expressed his disappointment at the lack of discussion in the General Assembly and among interest groups about reforming workers' compensation, saying that many of them “never lifted a finger” to attend meetings that might have sparked change.
“We’re down there day in and day out hoping that we can get a bill moving, and there is no discussion of it at all,” Baise said. “They ignored this side of the ledger. The other kinds of costs – the increased costs that are going to occur because of the tax hike – are just going to be salt in the wound of a state that hasn’t controlled its spending (with) a pension system that is out of control.”
He concluded by expressing disappointment at Republican legislators who voted for the spending and tax hike revenue plan, saying they "decided to give up on the fight."