How Can Illinois Get Back on Its Feet?

Compulsory Unionism a Major Hurdle to State’s Economic Revival

(Article first appeared in the September 2014 National Right to Work Committee Newsletter)

From January 2009, just a few months before the trough of the 2008-2009 recession, through July 2014, seasonally-adjusted nonfarm payroll employment across the U.S. increased by 5.0 million, or 3.8%. By historical standards, this is a very weak recovery.

merely-ousting-union-label-Gov.-Pat-Quinn-(D)But by comparison with the record of Big Labor-dominated Illinois, the national recovery looks stellar.

Since January 2009, Illinois Job Growth Has Trailed U.S. Average by Roughly 90%

From January 2009, when union-label Gov. Pat Quinn (D) took office, through this July, Illinois’s nonfarm payroll employment grew by less than 0.4%!

Largely because of his extraordinarily poor record on economic and fiscal matters, many political observers now expect Mr. Quinn to be ousted by GOP challenger Bruce Rauner this November.

But the experience of many states indicates it will be far more difficult for Illinoisans who are concerned about their state’s future to change its economic trajectory than it may turn out to be for them to change the occupant of the governor’s mansion.

Unfunded Government Pension Liabilities Growing By $21 Million a Day

On the campaign trail, Mr. Rauner regularly lambastes Mr. Quinn for a series of policy fiascoes such as the whopping 67% increase in the marginal income tax rate for households and huge 46% increase in the rate for incorporated businesses he signed in early 2011.

Mr. Quinn claimed then that these and other tax increases he pushed through at the time, collectively designed to extract an additional $7.5 billion a year from hardworking Illinoisans, would “put the state back on sound fiscal footing.”

Instead, the Prairie State continued sinking further and further into debt. As Kevin Williamson recently reported for National Review, Illinois’s “unfunded pension liabilities are growing at $21 million a day.”

Illinois now has the lowest credit ratings of any of the states, with Moody’s at A3.

How did a state with so many talented and industrious residents get in such a deep hole?

Meaningful Spending Reforms Impossible Without Rollback Of Union Monopoly Privileges

The fact is, for decades Illinois has been burdened by labor policies authorizing union monopoly bargaining and forced union dues and fees in the public and private sectors and a tax and regulatory climate that are hostile to private-sector job and income growth.

And unlike in other Midwestern states like Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin, in Illinois there has been relatively little effective resistance up to now to Big Labor control over the policy agenda.

This year, Mr. Rauner, a businessman who is now leading in virtually all polls, has given some encouragement to freedom-loving Illinoisans that, if elected, he will confront union special interests and fight for taxpayers.

During a discussion of the state’s bankrupt pension system at one of the GOP primary debates, for example, Mr. Rauner declared, “The government union bosses are at the core of our spending problem in Illinois.”

However, Mr. Rauner has so far not commited himself publicly to pushing for an across-the-board Right to Work law protecting all kinds of employees from forced union dues.

“Given Illinois’s political climate, it won’t be easy for Bruce Rauner, assuming he is elected this November, to make significant positive policy changes to promote private-sector job growth and rein in public spending,” said Matthew Leen, vice president of the National Right to Work Committee.

“To have a reasonable chance of success in a Big Labor stronghold state like Illinois, Mr. Rauner should not wait until after Election Day to announce his intent to curtail union bosses’ special privileges.

“He needs to begin explaining now to voters why it’s both a moral and an economic imperative for the next Prairie State governor to take on compulsory unionism.

“To accomplish that objective, Mr. Rauner need do little more than cite Wisconsin and Indiana as case studies.”