High cost of corruption
Right across the border in Iowa, honest government gets tangible results for its citizens.
Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad was both relieved and livid — relieved that his state will be the site of a new $1.4 billion fertilizer plant and livid because the Hawkeye state's tax climate almost prevented the planned construction from happening.
"If this doesn't wake us up, I don't know what will," said Bradstad, emphasizing the need to improve Iowa's tax climate.
Perhaps he shouldn't have been so worried. After all, Iowa was competing for the plant with Illinois, and in that contest Illinois was at a disadvantage.
Here's how the Des Moines Register, Iowa's largest newspaper, recently reported the story.
"Iowa landed a $1.4 billion fertilizer plant by the 'skin of its teeth' after nearly losing it to Illinois, 'a state that is the poster child of debt, unfunded liability and corruption,' Gov. Terry Branstad said."
Alas, Gov. Branstad is right. Indeed, Illinois residents know far better than he just how rotten government in this state has been. The decision by the Orascom Construction Industries to build in Iowa demonstrates yet one more way the people of this state suffer because of our perverse tradition of corruption and self-serving politics.
Whatever one thinks of offering financial incentives to new business, it's become a part of the economic development game.
It's one in which Illinois enthusiastically participates. In fact, Illinois offered a more generous economic package to attract the fertilizer plant than Iowa did. Orascom CEO Nassef Sawiris said Illinois put together a package of tax incentives that was "financially superior" to the $251 million proposal Iowa made.
So why pick Iowa?
"Whatever tax regime exists today we take with a grain of salt. The unfunded pension liabilities of the state of Illinois were a big concern, let alone the hypothetical situations that exist in doing business in Illinois and Chicago," Sawiris said.
In other words, Illinois tends to its finances so sloppily that its promises can't be trusted. Its proclivity for corruption is so well known that some people don't want to take a chance on being subjected to a shakedown. Illinois is so far round the bend that investing here poses risks that don't exist elsewhere.
Illinois is a great state. It has an outstanding transportation network, is centrally located, and has a strong workforce and many amenities that make it a wonderful place to live. But all that and a better incentive package were not enough in this case.
Illinoisans, long exasperated and frustrated by our well-known tradition of corruption, tend to laugh off our state's poor reputation. Laughing, obviously, beats crying, but it's really not funny.
People here need jobs. Governmental units need more taxpayers. Everyone's quality of life is enhanced by economic growth. That's not a vague theory offered in a civics class. It's the unavoidable reality of a great economic opportunity lost because our elected officials have done and are doing such a lousy job running this state.