Yes, discomfort now will be worthwhile to all of us in the end
By KYLE MCCARTER
Should the Governor’s Turnaround Agenda be approved? Yes, and the reasons why involve opportunity, prosperity and our future.
When this agenda was first made public, it started out as two pages of single-spaced ideas, which elaborated the numerous ways Illinois government could be made to benefit the people of Illinois. It is, however, commonly known by a few big hot-button issues like “Right to Work,” Property Tax Freeze, Pension Reform, and Workers Compensation Reform.
Moving forward, it is imperative we ask a few relevant questions. How big do you want Illinois state government to be? How much government can you afford? How much are you willing to pay? Is the high price of doing business in Illinois creating more or less opportunity for you and your family to continue to live close together, gain employment and create wealth? Is the burden of escalating property taxes making it easier or more difficult for your family or small business to make ends meet?
The reality is that in order to be competitive with other states we need to move our economic rankings from last toward first. We must change the environment that caused more than 200,000 people to leave our state. I’m reminded of the famous country song, “All My Ex’s Live in Texas,” when thinking about all my friends — and now sons — who have moved there because of the high price of living in Illinois, or for more economic opportunity for their families.
Illinois cannot afford to continue on the same path. Something has to give. The people considering leaving are not willing to listen to another politician tell them that things are not that bad, or that they just don’t understand, or that Illinois just needs more time for our last reform to work.
Before anyone starts getting emotional about the changes, let’s be clear that “Right to Work” was taken off the table early on by the governor — along with many other issues. The governor compromised more than Speaker Madigan and President Cullerton. I personally believe the American thing to do is to support the right of employees to freely choose if they want to be in a union. This freedom in neighboring states is a huge invitation to companies to come and invest; it provided people with great-paying jobs and resulted in an increase in their state’s average income.
Workers’ compensation in Illinois must change. As a manufacturer, I know about this issue from real experience. The lack of a “majority causation” standard for employers makes Illinois workers’ comp rates two and three times higher than those of our neighboring states. It’s this cost of doing business that is running companies out of Illinois and causing others to choose not to invest here. Olin Corp. is a perfect example of a company that needed just a few percentage points in their profit to fairly settle with the union employees at their East Alton plant. Unfortunately, their hometown legislator refused to take a stand for meaningful workers’ comp reform. Now, these jobs are in Mississippi.
Failure to stand up to the trial lawyers and their money chases jobs and families out of the state. We must choose between the trial lawyers or our families. As a compromise, lets apply the reforms to government and non-profits first, and then later to businesses. The reform to state government alone would save taxpayers $300 million each year.
Is Illinois government too big? Absolutely. We have more units of government than any other state (6,963 according to the Illinois Policy Institute). Is it affordable? Of course not. Some Illinoisans live in homes that are paid for, but their property tax bill continues to rise, and it seemingly will forever. So, if consolidation and elimination of local units of government reduces cost and a property tax freeze reigns in some out-of-control taxing bodies, these elements of the Turnaround Agenda make perfect sense. Will it be an adjustment to what we are used to? Yes, but the only way to lower the cost of government and make it more efficient is to make it smaller, streamlined and more accountable. I once heard Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels say, “You will be amazed how much government people can live without, once it is gone.” It has also been said that the hardest animal to kill is a beloved school mascot, which many of the local units of government became. Republicans are typically for smaller government, until you start cutting their government and then they complain. If Springfield politicians were honest they would wear a button that says, “Cut the budget … just don’t cut mine.” We can and must adjust to smaller government.
Government pensions must be reformed because we cannot afford the big promises of the past. Government unions collect dues, spend that money contributing to legislators, and promise their support for re-election - in trade for making bigger politician pension promises that cannot be kept. State government cannot go bankrupt, but pension systems can. A modified pension is much better than a bankrupt one. Current promises are unaffordable. They impacted our public colleges and universities to the point that the cost of a college education in Illinois became too costly, forcing our youth to go elsewhere for college; some never to return home. So, if making tough, realistic, actuarially-sound changes to public pensions makes the pensions affordable for taxpayers and keeps our youth in school in Illinois, then yes, we should approve this part of the Turnaround Agenda.
Admittedly, opposition to reform is loud and influential, but don’t be deterred by a few moaning trial lawyers, local politicians or disappointed government employees. We must take the steps that will lead to more opportunity, more freedom and more jobs for the people of Illinois. We must make government smaller, more efficient and more accountable, lower the cost of doing business in our state, and give people a reason to stay. It will not be easy, it could be uncomfortable at times, but it will be worth it. We can make Illinois great again and the Turnaround Agenda is a great place to start.
Kyle McCarter is Republican senator from Lebanon, representing Illinois 54th Legislative District.
The basics of the Governor’s Turnaround Agenda
Although it’s been scaled back some since he first proposed it, most of the basic elements of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s ambitious Turnaround Agenda remain much the way they did shortly after he took office in January 2015.
This compilation is taken from the governor’s website.
According to the Governor’s Office, Illinois needs to become more competitive in order to increase jobs and grow the economy. Specifically, the office says Illinois:
- is ranked by Chief Executive Magazine as 48th among top states for business;
- has the seventh-highest workers’ compensation costs in the country;
- has the ninth-highest unemployment insurance taxes in the country;
- has one of the worst lawsuit climates in the country, ranking 46th out of 50;
- is last in job growth among neighboring states; and
- saw more than 94,000 residents move out of state last year.
The governor wants to implement structural reforms that he says are the major cost drivers for businesses.
He is seeking to:
- transform the workers’ compensation system to bring costs in line with other states;
- reform the judicial climate to rein in frivolous lawsuits;
- adopt changes to the unemployment insurance program;
- empower voters to choose if workers should be forced to join a union or pay fair share fees as a condition of an employment and allow local communities to compete by enacting local empowerment zones; and
- phase in a minimum wage increase to $10 an hour.