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Illinois Can Change, But Only With a Change of Leadership

Illinois has a population problem: Illinois is shrinking faster than nearly any other state, while the vast majority of states are actually growing. Employers, employees, entrepreneurs, renters, home buyers, shoppers and taxpayers are all building, investing, buying, spending and paying taxes in other states.

A glance at Crain’s March 8th issue is revealing: retailers bailing out of Water Tower Place, falling condo prices downtown and an editorial asking “Who will step up to save Illinois?”

We know who won’t: Governor JB Pritzker and the Democrat super-majority in both houses of our legislature. Just over a year ago, the Governor said he’s “here to tell the carnival barkers, the doomsayers, the paid professional critics – the State of our State is growing stronger each day.”

Crain’s and Greg Hinz see the Illinois crisis that Pritzker does not, but their focus on the government’s problem (pensions) is misplaced and their solution (higher income taxes) would only make our population problem worse. Instead, to save Illinois, we need to fix what people don’t like about Illinois: its government.

Illinoisans are profoundly alienated from our government. Ogden & Fry found through eleven surveys of statewide registered voters that, while 17% more Illinoisans self-identify as Democrat than Republican, even a near majority of Democrats dislike our Democrat-dominated government.

For example, more than 75% agreed that “Illinois politicians care more about people in government than they do about ordinary people.” And more than 80% are “sick of leaders who spend more time looking for ways to take from us instead of trying to help us.”

Illinoisans have had it with higher taxes -- raising taxes to solve the government’s problem is a nonstarter. While more than 75% of respondents in one poll believe that Illinois is in a financial crisis, more than 85% in another believe taxes are already too high.

Illinoisans are right: according to Wallethub, the average Illinois household pays more of their income in taxes than households in any other state. Speaker Welch’s call for a redo of the doomed Pritzker’s tax hike is remarkably tone-deaf.

We need to elect leaders who focus on our population problem -- we need to make Illinois a great place to live, invest, build a family and chase dreams again. This requires rethinking and refocusing our governments on serving people -- protecting them and their property and pursuing policies that enrich instead of impoverishing them.

Before 1970, Illinois was among the fastest-growing states. But, the corrupt culture that has permeated Illinois politics for generations has resulted in a government that’s become unjust and predatory, and so people leave. Democrats, and even Crain’s, believe it is up to the people of Illinois to serve government by paying higher taxes for our poor governance. But they all miss the point: people don’t have to stay and pay. People are free to leave and move to states where the government is not looking to take more and give less.

So, we save Illinois by refocusing our government on solving the problems that drive people away. Just look around Chicago: we need to lower taxes and improve safety. We need to protect people, their property, monuments and stores; we need to create an appealing physical and economic environment and empower each to pursue their own happiness without government micro-management, corruption and bullying.

We need to rethink what government does and restructure accordingly. Necessity spurs innovation among leaders who have a sense of urgency, a willingness to seek out creative change, and a laser focus on fixing instead of feeding and facilitating our broken government. Fixing government requires finding legal pathways to protect pensions for lower and middle-income workers while placing the burden of reform on those who can and should bear the cost: higher income government leaders who created this unfair mess.

Change will be hard. There are loud, active and rich groups and individuals who will always fight reform -- including Governor Pritzker and his allies in government -- because they and their forebears rigged the system to give themselves a sweet deal. The rest of us who get a raw deal from our government -- including most of Crain’s readers -- need to band together and make our voices heard over the din and diversions of the carnival barkers, doomsayers and predators running Illinois today.

Richard Porter is a lawyer in Chicago and represents Illinois on the Republican National Committee. This article first appeared in Crain's Chicago Business and has been reprinted with permission.

Richard Porter is a lawyer in Chicago and Illinois’s national committeeman to the Republican National Committee.