Kentucky billboards advertise Illinois’ woes to lure businesses

Kentucky billboards advertise Illinois’ woes to lure businesses

Kentucky’s economic developers are using billboards along Interstate 57 to bring businesses south by highlighting Illinois’ poor finances, high taxes and unwelcoming business climate.

Kentucky isn’t the first state, and likely won’t be the last, to highlight Illinois’ high taxes, throttling regulations and harsh business climate to encourage businesses to join the Illinois exodus.

A series of billboards along Interstate 57 show chunks of letters from Illinois’ name falling to complete five phrases such as “Illinois isn’t pro-business, Kentucky IS” and “Illinois has an ILL tax system.” The messages sponsored by the Kentucky Cabinet for Economic Development then encourage Illinois businesses to “Think Kentucky.”

The campaign is expected to last six months and cost $87,000 for nine billboards and creative costs, according to the Chicago Tribune. The idea came from Illinois business inquiries.

“We have had a number of Illinois businesses inquire about doing business in the state,” Vivek Sarin, Kentucky’s economic development interim secretary, told the Tribune. “It’s enough to catch our attention and justify this campaign that we are launching.”

The campaign highlights Kentucky’s right-to-work law, lower taxes, less regulation and better weather.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s spokesman responded by saying Pritzker is a businessman who understands the importance of infrastructure and education spending in creating a healthy environment for business.

Neighboring states’ efforts to capitalize on Illinois’ fiscal woes is far from new.

Wisconsin in January 2018 tried to lure millennials from Chicagoland with promises that their state was a better fit. Lower taxes, shorter commute times and the ability to create change were all part of their “Wisconsin is ‘more you’” pitch.

Former Gov. Bruce Rauner in a 2017 campaign ad famously featured governors of Wisconsin, Indiana and Missouri thanking Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan for creating a climate that was driving jobs to their states.

Indiana in 2014 created the “STILLINNOYED? No wonder” billboard campaign in the Chicago area. Indiana state leaders said they were “hunting” Illinois businesses that don’t like the “unpredictable nature” of the state.

Things since then have gotten more unpredictable in Illinois as Pritzker has increased spending in his effort to “create an environment where businesses thrive,” as his spokesman said.

Illinois passed 20 new or increased taxes and fees, including a doubled gasoline tax, to fund a record $40 billion state budget and $45 billion infrastructure plan. Despite increasing state pension spending by 501% since 2000 to top the nation, Illinois’ retirement systems are $137 billion in the red by the state’s accounting or $241 billion according to Moody’s Investors Service.

Pritzker is trying to convince voters ahead of the November 2020 election the state can solve the pension crisis by scrapping Illinois’ constitutional flat tax protection and giving state lawmakers greater taxing authority. He wants a progressive state income tax, a system that seriously damaged the economy, hurt the poor and increased taxes on the middle class in Connecticut, the only state to adopt the system in the past 30 years.

Rather than dumping more taxes into the pension hole, state leaders should allow voters to amend the Illinois Constitution to protect earned pension benefits while allowing for changes in the growth of future, unearned benefits.

Illinoisans aren’t sold on the idea that a different tax system would fix Illinois’ pension problems or fiscal crises. Nearly half of those polled in June said a progressive tax would be “just a blank check for Springfield politicians to spend more and will hurt Illinois’ economy and force businesses to leave the state.”

By force or by choice, Illinois businesses choosing to move are all too welcome in neighboring states.

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