Illinois: Plenty of pumpkins, not enough people

Illinois: Plenty of pumpkins, not enough people

Illinois ranks as the top pumpkin producer in the country, which isn’t much of a consolation given the state’s poor performance in almost every economic category.

The Land of Lincoln ranks as having the one of the highest overall tax burdens in the country and one of the worst pension crises in the nation, and is one of the most corrupt states in the U.S. to boot.

But Illinois can claim one positive No. 1 spot: The state is the top pumpkin producer in the United States.

Tazewell, Mason, Wayne, Peoria, Stark, Moultrie, Logan, Kane, McHenry and McLean are the top 10 pumpkin-producing counties in the state, according to the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Illinois produced 317.9 million pounds of pumpkin in 2015 – more than the next three highest states combined (California, Ohio, Pennsylvania) – according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. And 77 percent of all pumpkins harvested for processing come from Illinois as of 2012, the last year these pumpkin data were available, with 80 percent of all commercial pumpkins sold in the U.S. coming from within a 90-mile radius of Peoria.

But rather than sticking around to celebrate Halloween and Illinois’ pumpkin-producing prowess, many Illinoisans have been scared off by the state’s anti-growth policies. Illinois’ lack of jobs growth and an uncompetitive business climate have led to massive out-migration over the past several decades.

Adjusted for population, Illinois’ out-migration rate is worse than the rates of all its border states, from 3.6 times worse than Wisconsin’s rate to 14.1 times worse than Iowa’s. And a recent Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll found 47 percent of current Illinoisans would like to leave the state, citing high taxes as the main reason.

Lawmakers need to carve out a plan for pro-growth reforms that can reverse Illinois’ downward trajectory. They can start with reforming the state’s uncompetitive workers’ compensation system and enacting a property-tax freeze to provide much-needed relief for struggling Illinois families.

While Illinois can boast about pumpkin production to a state like Michigan, which produced a mere 77 million pounds of pumpkin in 2015, Michigan and other Midwestern neighbors are examples of how to implement pro-growth economic policies to help a state’s economy rebound. Michigan has reversed its out-migration trends, lowered its taxes, enacted statewide Right to Work and seen the addition 171,000 manufacturing jobs since its recession bottom.

Illinois lawmakers should take notes from the states that rank ahead of the Land of Lincoln in key economic matters. It’ll be hard to craft a balanced budget when the state has more pumpkins than taxpayers.

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