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Business leaders fear 'death by a thousand cuts' in Illinois

The state’s biggest business groups say a litany of regulations being proposed in Chicago and Springfield will burden already besieged employers and potentially run more companies out of the state.

The proposals range from increases in the minimum wage and in property, soda pop and motor-fuels taxes, to mandatory paid sick leave, to a ban on plastic grocery bags in certain circumstances. The Legislature could also make permanent a temporary personal income tax hike. And that’s not counting paying for the city and state’s massive unfunded pension liabilities.

“What flies under the radar is that these proposals could mean death by a thousand cuts, even as Illinois has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country,” said Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer for the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association. “Already, we are not seeing new companies invest or expand in Illinois.”

Illinois has the third-worst unemployment rate — 8.4 percent — among the 50 states, and is ranked No. 31 in business tax climate by the Tax Foundation, a tax policy think tank.

Denzler reviewed the list of proposed taxes and regulations Wednesday along with Theresa E. Mintle, president and CEO of the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce, and Rob Karr, president and CEO of the Illinois Retail Merchants Association, at a Sun-Times editorial board meeting.

The business leaders said such regulations would force employers to suspend hiring, increase layoffs and reduce other benefits. They estimate that a paid sick-day mandate alone would cost employers $589 million annually in wages, benefits and administrative costs.

“What is Illinois’ growth strategy?” Mintle asked. “We need to hit the pause button and bring some sanity to the dialogue. Right now, we have dysfunction and no predictability. We want to create thousands more jobs but there is no incentive to do that.”

Jason Keller, legislative director for the Illinois AFL-CIO, said Wednesday: “We need to take care of the citizens of our state” with measures such as an increased minimum wage and mandatory paid sick leave.

“We have to stop saying that Illinois is a bad place to do business. It’s a good place to do business, to work and to raise your family.”

The debate comes amid analyses released this month that show the American middle class is in decline and that CEOs of companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index are paid 331 times the average worker’s pay, Keller said.

“That’s the bigger issue,” he said.