In offering financial incentives to keep big businesses from leaving, Illinois is caught in a financial trap of its own making.
It was just a few weeks ago that the chief executive officer of Peoria-based Caterpillar, either accidently or on purpose, made crystal clear what those who pay attention already knew.
The Caterpillar chief sent Gov. Pat Quinn a letter, which was immediately leaked to the news media, informing him that the state's business climate is not exactly friendly to business and that Caterpillar is routinely invited by governors of other states to move to their more friendly environs.
Quinn professed dismay at the disclosure and rushed to make nice with Caterpillar. Thereupon, the Cat chief announced that his company would remain in Illinois, while neglecting to mention the many thousands of good, high-paying manufacturing jobs that already have left Illinois for other states or other countries.
The Caterpillar letter and Quinn's Pavlovian response to it seems to have had an effect on other businesses. Suddenly, Illinois state officials are being pressured into offering financial incentives to other businesses that have hinted they also might considering moving.
Motorola Mobility, located in the Chicago suburbs, got Quinn to offer $100 million in state tax credits. Groupon followed by securing a $3.5 million tax-credit pledge from Quinn.
Now Sears is pressing for incentives from the state, and it almost assuredly will get them. If it left Illinois, Sears could take 6,000 direct jobs and many more indirect jobs with it.
When behemoths of this size squawk, the state has no choice but to listen and respond. Some people may wonder why.
The answer is that the companies are correct in their complaints. The state's hostile business climate is a clear disincentive to move to Illinois to do business or to stay and expand. That's why the governor has to hand out special incentives to those threatening to leave.
The better solution would be for the state to provide an environment that is friendly to all businesses than to negotiate individually with clout-heavy enterprises. But that would require Gov. Quinn and Co. to ease the regulatory and tax burden on business, address the state's hugely expensive workers' compensation law, stop raising the state's minimum wage law above the federal level and manage the state's finances in a responsible manner.
Taxpayers obviously resent those businesses that choose to play hardball in this fashion. But they ought to be angry at the governors and legislators who created a climate that puts Illinois at a business disadvantage with other states.
Illinois needs business and industry because the state and its people need the jobs and economic energy they generate. It can't have one without the other.