The State of Illinois is a wreck. The state’s outstanding debt and pension liabilities are over $200 billion (with a ‘b’) and, in the past ten years, the state credit rating has dropped over 20 times. Just the interest for late payments to state vendors is over $1 billion (with a ‘b’) and there is not only no way to recoup that money, the end is nowhere in sight.
Get this: Taxes are so ridiculous that in each of the past three years, more people have moved away from Illinois than any other state of the union. The political corruption has been legendary for years yet the current legislature still thinks you can tax your way to prosperity. Forbes reported last year that between 1992 and 2014 the state lost $42 billion (with a ‘b’) in net adjusted income.
Last week a member of the Chicago Tribune’s award-winning editorial board – Kristen McQueary – wrote a dazzling commentary to a very select group of Americans who you know better than most. Entitled “Dear Tennessee: Sorry About the ‘Illinois Exodus’,” Kristen’s story has “gotten legs” across the state because most of those who are fleeing the worst economic state in the county are coming to the best economic state. That would be us.
I have gotten four copies of the delightful McQueary article and, as I share it, we should hope she and her colleagues might consider moving to Tennessee as well:
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COMMENTARY: DEAR TENNESSEE – SORRY ABOUT THE ‘ILLINOIS EXODUS’
By Kristen McQueary
(This opinion column appeared in The Chicago Tribune on September 4, 2018)
On behalf of frustrated taxpayers in Illinois — those of us still here, mumbling into the firmament — I would like to offer apology and counsel to Tennesseans. The influx of newcomers clogging your thoroughfares, the eroding of your small-town charm and the opening of deep-dish pizza parlors will not slow anytime soon.
The Nov. 6 election in Illinois could sweep in a Democratic governor and an influx of Democratic lawmakers intent on changing the state’s tax structure through a constitutional amendment. The change would unlock Illinois’ flat tax and give politicians the flexibility to institute a graduated income tax — and then adjust the tax rates in perpetuity.
In which direction, Tennesseans, do you think those tax rates will head?
We can’t tell you precisely what a graduated income tax would look like because the Democratic gubernatorial nominee who supports the policy, J.B. Pritzker, won’t level with us. He won’t put numbers on his plan. He wants blind support from Democratic voters, and they’ll probably give it to him.
Frankly, it’s absurd. We live in a state where politicians jammed a 67 percent personal income tax hike through the General Assembly in 2011 and promised it would be temporary. Then they vacillated on keeping their word and tried to make it permanent. Under pressure, they did allow a portion of the tax to sunset. For a moment. Then they passed a new 32 percent income tax hike. And now they’re vowing to rewrite the state constitution to permit a graduated income tax without revealing how much it would cost. Tax rates? Us? Huh?
Even with the new revenue from Income Tax Hike II — now that tax hikes could start coming annually like Super Bowls, we should use Roman numerals — Illinois’ credit rating is stuck at junk-bond status. The state’s debts and pension liabilities are north of $200 billion and taxpayers are paying more than $1 billion annually in interest for late payments to our vendors. Property taxes are the second-highest in the country. Our elected officials continue to rely on borrowing to “balance” structurally unbalanced budgets. And they offer no pro-growth, innovative reform to expand and energize the economy.
They want us to write another check and shut up.
Or move. More residents left Illinois last year than did residents of any other state.
So I’m sorry, Tennessee. This is why we’re jamming up your roads, schools and workplaces. We’re replacing your dive-bar barbecue with our pizza and craft beers. We’re barging into your comforting Southern twang with hard vowels and incomplete sentences. We’re invading at a record pace, so get used to “frunchroom” and “Hey der.” Did you know a recent study found the Chicago accent to be the least attractive in the country? Do you agree yet?
“They are building a new development on every corner, in every farm field, everywhere you go,” says Robert Perunko of Gurnee, who drove through several neighborhoods south of Nashville this summer, house-hunting. “I couldn’t find the house we wanted to look at because there were so many Wi-Fi units flooding our devices. You have to turn off Bluetooth connectivity to access the internet.”
Sorry, Nashville. We’re messing up your technology, too.
The good news is you’re getting people like Perunko and his wife: hardworking, civic-minded, family-oriented, modest — but fed up. Perunko is leaning toward leaving Illinois. Here’s why:
He drives a 2007 Toyota Corolla with more than 200,000 miles. He sold his motorcycle to manage mortgage payments, put off new windows on the family’s Cape Code-style house and started changing the oil on the car himself to save money. Family members eat meals at home. They bring their lunches to work. A recent splurge? Taking their young son to see the movie “Coco.” That’s it.
They paid $210,000 for their house, which now has a property tax bill of more than $6,000. They pay more than $4,000 in state income taxes. A graduated income tax under most scenarios Perunko has calculated would cost him another $900 at least.
Meanwhile, their friends in Tennessee pay about $500 a year in property taxes on a much more expensive home with a swimming pool.
“I am old and wise enough to know the difference between being male and being a man,” he says. “As such, having Democrats and (House Speaker Michael Madigan) stealing the very quality of life and ability for me to raise a family, our child … as a man I can’t tolerate that.”
Yet, so many others will. So many Illinois voters will buy into the rhetoric that more money through a graduated income tax will solve Illinois’ problems. It won’t. It will drive taxpayers away, many of them south.
So I’m sorry, Tennessee. Keep building out those cornfields. Erect more cell towers. Get used to sweet pickle relish and celery salt. More of us are coming your way.
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Kristen McQueary is a member of the Tribune Editorial Board. You can contact her at email@example.com
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* -- “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people's money.” -- Margaret Thatcher
* -- “Socialists cry "Power to the people," and raise the clenched fist as they say it. We all know what they really mean--power over people, power to the State.” -- MARGARET THATCHER, speech to Conservative Central Council, March 15, 1986
* -- “Democracy is the road to socialism.” -- KARL MARX, attributed, Communism
* -- “You don't make the poor richer by making the rich poorer.” – Sir Winston Churchill.
* -- “We're going to take things away from you on behalf of the common good.” – Hillary Clinton, in a speech for Barbara Boxer in 1984.
* -- “You cannot shake hands with a clenched fist.”—Indira Gandhi, the first female Prime Minister of India.