Reeder: He’s critical of Illinois because he loves it here
Every once in a while someone will ask, “Scott, why are you so critical of Illinois?”
My response is simple — Because I love it here.
This is the state where I was born and where I was raised. During my adult life, I’ve lived in five states, and the Land of Lincoln is hands down the best.
Mind you, a state is more than an amalgamation of laws and policies. It is its people and towns and natural resources and its opportunity.
Much the way spouses offer suggestions to one another, my criticism of our state is done out of love and a desire that we improve the quality of life and opportunity that it offers.
The hog farm I grew up on near Galesburg is a world apart from Chicago’s Magnificent Mile.
But it’s enjoyable to take the train to the city and see Sue the Dinosaur at the Field Museum or chow down with my kids on a Giordano’s pizza in the Loop.
I loved to take my Labrador retriever for long walks on the Ben Butterworth Parkway in Moline. (What an awe-inspiring view of the Mississippi River!)
I’m proud of the master’s degree I hold from one of the Prairie State’s universities.
Make no mistake about it. I’m an Illinoisan by choice. I want to see my three young daughters prosper in this great state.
But I worry.
I worry when I drive by the factories in my hometown and see their parking lots overgrown with weeds. Illinois ranks second among the states in its unemployment rate.
I’m concerned because too many of our public schools are failing our children. The state’s largest school district, the Chicago Public Schools, has a graduation rate of only about 60 percent.
I’m ashamed that our state government fails to be fiscally responsible. Illinois has more than $9 billion in unpaid bills, a long-term unfunded liability for its public pension systems approaching $100 billion and the worst credit rating of any state.
Politicians of all stripes are to blame for our financial meltdown, which recklessly has been allowed to gradually worsen over the years.
But rather than focus on who is at fault, we need to focus on solutions.
After all, Illinois isn’t hopeless. If it were, I wouldn’t have chosen to raise my family here. We need to bring it back with forward-looking policies and action.
Here are some thoughts on the state’s current predicament:
Taxes: According to the Tax Foundation, Illinois taxpayers bear the fourth-highest overall tax burden in the nation. With 46 states offering more friendly environs to both people and businesses, the Prairie State needs to look at lowering rather than increasing taxes — if it wants to attract more people and business.
Education: Money should follow the student. Parents should be empowered to use education dollars to purchase the best available education for their youngster — public or private.
Business: Instead of cutting sweetheart deals with big corporations, such as Sears, state leaders need to foster a positive environment for businesses large and small. This can only be accomplished by creating an economy where all businesses — not just the politically chosen ones — can benefit from lower taxes and fewer regulations.
Change never comes easy.
But Illinois is worth the fight.
Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist-in-residence at the Illinois Policy Institute, a nonprofit research group that supports the free market and limited government.