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Illinois must step up to the plate to shake its loser image

   More than 70 years ago, some enterprising fella, probably a newspaperman, came up with his best turn of phrase:
Dennis-Grubaugh-head-shot    “First in shoes, first in booze and last in the American League,” he said, describing the Gateway City and the hapless baseball team of that era, the St. Louis Browns.
    It was, of course, hyperbole, because the Browns actually managed to make it to the 1944 World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals — and lost. The loser tag, though, managed to stick with the franchise for all time.
    It’s hard to shake such reputations. When you’re bad, you’re bad, but when everybody says you’re bad, it’s worse. Over in the Land of Lincoln, we should be worried about getting stuck with a similar sobriquet.
    After the past few weeks, we’ve become known as, “First in moves, first in boos, last in job creation.”
    OK, that’s hyperbole, too, but Illinois’ ghastly business climate continues to get hammered, so much so that there is seldom good news to report.
    –  According to a recent report by Pew Charitable Trusts, Moody’s Analytics expects Illinois to have a growth rate of just 0.98 percent with an increase of roughly 57,000 jobs in 2014.  That rate would put Illinois behind 49 other U.S. states in job creation.  North Dakota is expected to be the No. 1 state in job creation with a rate of 3.57 percent. That’s North Dakota, as in home of Fargo and not much else.
    – A new audit of Illinois pensions shows their unfunded liability has crossed into the $100 billion range. The auditor general’s report released last month indicates the five retirement systems’ liability grew 6.3 percent – $5.9 billion – in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2013. The new total is $100.5 billion, if you’re keeping track.
    – Of all things, moving companies track the number of people leaving states, using their equipment, and, you guessed it, Illinois is near the top of the heap. Allied Van Lines said Illinois was one of their top five most outbound states, with 986 more moves-out than moves-in the last year. United Van Lines ranked Illinois as the second most outbound state, with 2,251 more moves out than in. (Illinois was United’s most outbound state in 2011). Atlas Van Lines declared Illinois an outbound state, with 862 more moves out than in.
    Saints preserve us. Maybe we can get the governor of Missouri to order a bridge barricade to Illinois’ outbound traffic?
    The pension mess, of course, continues to be a sore spot. Legislators are chasing serious reforms but even before they can be thoroughly debated, unions are filing suits on constitutional grounds. The worry is, even if reforms are passed, the law could get overturned and throw havoc into a system even as it’s being improved.
    But more than a retirement crisis, Illinois has to focus on the bigger picture. There are things that will get it positive press, actions that can be taken to make the state seem like a great place to work — and to therefore live.
    The state must ease the regulatory and tax burden on businesses. It must invest in capital projects that rejuvenate the infrastructure. It must consider ways to put itself on more competitive footing with surrounding states. It must scrub hundreds of needless giveaways and patronage waste. It must project an air of partisan cooperation, even when hearty debate is necessary to arrive at sound, fiscal conclusions.
    Without those changes, all you’ll hear is Ross Perot’s famous sucking sound of people, and business, leaving the Land of Lincoln for more welcome climates. Using United Van Lines or otherwise.
    Dennis Grubaugh is editor of the Illinois Business Journal. He can be reached at or (618) 977-6865.

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