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Reeder: Illinois could learn a lot from Texas

Published: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 9:18 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, July 22, 2014 9:24 p.m. CDT

PORT ISABEL, TEXAS – I like to eat at blue-collar diners and cafés, particularly when I’m vacation.

It’s a chance to step beyond the homogenized national chains and experience a bit of local flavor.

This past week, I took my family to Texas.

We also had some terrific conversations with ordinary folks.

One day, I found myself standing in line at a restaurant with a Port Isabel, Texas, teacher. I asked the teacher, “So how is the economy around here?”

His response surprised me.

“It’s terrific,” he said. “These people who are moving here are creating all kinds of jobs. They are starting businesses.”

Unlike Texas, Illinois has been experiencing an exodus. And on average, those leaving Illinois earn $8,000 more a year than those who choose to move here, according to Internal Revenue Service data.

Folks who earn more money are more likely to start businesses, invest in the economy, pay more taxes and make more purchases.

In short, Illinois is becoming a poorer state because wealthy and middle class people are leaving and lower income folks are moving in to take their place.

Texas, on the other hand, is becoming wealthier. And it’s happening partially at Illinois’ expense.

Why is this happening?

The things that set Texas apart from the Land of Lincoln are low taxes, less labor conflict and few government regulations.

For example, for every hundred dollars in payroll, Texas employers pay 39 cents for workers’ compensation insurance while their Illinois counterparts pay $1.10.

For many industries whether a state allows compulsory unionism has become litmus tests for whether they will invest there.  

And let’s not forget Texas doesn’t have an income tax.

In Illinois, we are expected to forfeit 5 percent of our income to Springfield just for the privilege of living here while in Texas not a cent is taken out of your paycheck by state government.

My family enjoyed its visit to Texas. We enjoyed dining along the river in San Antonio, playing on the beaches on South Padre Island and watching dolphins in the Gulf of Mexico. But Texas isn’t home. Illinois is. We love this state and we want to see it succeed.

Illinois will never have the Gulf of Mexico. Texas will never have a river as mighty as the Mississippi. But we can learn from each other. And when it comes to economics, Texas has a lot to teach us. I hope politicians in Springfield are listening.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and a journalist with Illinois News Network, a project of the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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