‘I confess: I like Illinois’

Written By BY John Cullerton Posted: 04/10/2014, 11:56am

I’d like to confess: I like Illinois.

Word-class businesses call Illinois home.

World-class universities attract the best and brightest.

World-class transportation moves people and goods around the globe.

We even have world-class critics, many of whom are wealthy enough to live anywhere, but they move here, raise their families and go about their business of telling everyone else to stay away or get out.

Lately I’ve been accused of being too optimistic about our state. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There’s still work to be done repairing our image and economy.

But you simply cannot ignore five years worth of progress toward re-establishing our presence on the economic stage.

◆ In 2009, all 50 states invested a combined $39 billion in infrastructure. Our share was $31 billion. Those projects created more than 439,000 jobs here.

◆ We revamped work rules and restored the convention industry’s faith in McCormick Place. The changes kept conventions, brought others back and resulted in more jobs for the union workers.

◆ We struck a bipartisan deal to change workers compensation laws to improve our business climate. As a result, recommended rates dropped 13.3 percent.

◆ In 2011, we overhauled unemployment insurance. The new provisions should save businesses $400 million over eight years, the equivalent of a 16 percent tax cut.

◆ By reducing eligibility, weeding out fraud and raising our cigarette tax, we reduced Medicaid’s strain on the state budget by $2.7 billion.

◆ The past five years have seen more action on stabilizing our pension systems than at any point in state history. If the latest law is upheld by the court, we could save more than $1.2 billion.

◆ We’ve trimmed $3.6 billion off a bill backlog that swelled to $9.2 billion two years ago.

Turns out I’m not alone in my optimism. Site Selection magazine recently ranked Illinois third nationally for major business investments and named Chicago the “top metro in America.”

Now, I often hear about Indiana’s alleged economic wonders. I was surprised our neighbor didn’t fare well. The Times of Northwest Indiana explained why: “Indiana often gets high ranks from Site Selection Magazine for its business climate, but trailed all of its neighboring states by a wide margin when it came to actual economic development.”

The key difference: Illinois produces results.

These bipartisan results, combined with our longstanding advantages, inspire my optimism in our economic future. The budget remains the last policy area where bipartisanship remains elusive. I want that to change. Negative rhetoric, too often espoused only for personal political gain, ignores the promise and progress of our state.

We are at a crossroads. In the coming weeks, we will decide local schools funding, what our tax structure should look like and whether thousands of public-sector employees keep their jobs.

Let’s restore optimism, promote our state, recognize our strengths and work collaboratively toward a brighter future. After all, Illinois has a great deal to offer.

John Cullerton is president of the Illinois Senate.

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