Brady has a plan to fix state economy

Monday, October 11, 2010

Illinois hemorrhaged hundreds of thousands of jobs in the last decade. The state stands to lose yet another congressional seat as vibrant population growth, good jobs and economic vigor migrate to business-friendly states. Illinois ranks in the wrong half of the 50 states in its business tax climate, with some tax categories scraping the bottom.

That's the legacy of Democratic rule in Springfield -- that plus a $13 billion budget deficit and $76 billion in unfunded pension obligations. Add retiree health commitments and other related costs and the state's retirement obligations reach "in the range of $130 billion," according to the Civic Committee of the Commercial Club.

None of that will change without strong economic medicine, tough fiscal discipline and hard governing decisions. That's what Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Brady is offering up this election season, while Gov. Quinn has made an income tax increase central to his campaign.

More of the same will not help the state out of its dire situation.

The state is down 600,000 jobs from a 2000 employment peak, reports Geoffrey Hewings, director of the Regional Economics Applications Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He attributes $6 billion -- nearly half -- of the state deficit to those job losses. With good-paying jobs leaving Illinois, the state has dropped from fourth to 15th in per capita income.

In the most recent ratings of the nonpartisan Tax Foundation's state business tax climate index, Illinois fell to 30th "but prevented a further slide" when the Legislature didn't pass Quinn's proposed 50 percent increase in the income tax. The group noted the state did increase several excise taxes. While the individual income tax helped the state by ranking 10th, ratings for other tax categories were damaging: corporate tax, 27th; property tax, 39th; sales tax 41st, and unemployment insurance 46th.

Results of the just completed U.S. census will cost the state another congressional seat, so that Illinois, which had 25 districts in 1960, will be reduced to 18.

Brady recognizes these trends must be stopped and reversed to restore the state's fiscal health. With a background in home construction and real estate as well as service in the state Senate, Brady proposes a comprehensive audit of the state budget to "deconstruct and reconstruct" spending to economize finances, find mismanagement, eliminate unneeded programs, and ultimately cut a "dime on the dollar" in the budget. He believes regaining the confidence of business and fueling private-sector job creation will grow revenues to the point that a portion could be funneled to reduce local property taxes. There's much more to his economic plan, but the salient point is that he recognizes the pressing need to reform the state's business environment.

Brady holds views on social issues out of step with me and many in Illinois. But those issues are not what this election is about. And he must know that being drawn into fights over abortion, gay rights or evolution would damage his hopes of a successful governorship.

Quinn is a likeable, committed politician, but that commitment is to government, which hasn't delivered for the taxpayer. He adheres to views better suited to the milieu of the 1970s than today, as evidenced by his promise of no layoffs to a large public employee union.

I was struck by how Quinn, during his endorsement interview with the Sun-Times, came across as dour. Brady appeared more optimistic. That attitude has him making upbeat assessments about what he could accomplish in four years, such as helping the state regain several hundred thousand jobs, though he adds the caveat of much depending on the national economy. Still, I'd rather see the state led by someone who aims high than one wedded to policies that got us into this mess.