Garden of the Gods SunsetThere are many reasons to like Illinois. Some enjoy the soaring skyscrapers of Chicago. Others marvel at geographic diversity, from rolling country to fertile farmland and mighty Oak trees to swampy Bald Cypress. Presidential timber is exemplified by Ulysses Grant, Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, and Barack Obama.

All are solid choices. For me, however, I like Illinois because of the resiliency of its people and their strong desire to be independent. Illinoisans are proud to work hard, generous with their time, and seek help only when they truly need it. At the Illinois Treasurer’s Office, we have programs to help those who wish to help themselves.

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By Patricia Van Pelt

mlk chicagoIn honor of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, I thought it was important for me, as a senator representing a predominately black district, to bring awareness to an aspect of his legacy many younger Chicagoans have not discovered, and others may have forgotten. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. didn’t just lead marches in the South; he often took to the streets of Chicago.

In the summer of 1966, King participated in a two-month fair housing campaign in Chicago. At the time, most neighborhoods were extremely segregated – Chicago, to this day, remains one of the most racially segregated cities in the country. Black residents who sought homes in traditionally white middle class neighborhoods in the Chicago of 1966 were often the victims of discrimination, exclusion and violence.

Dr. King realized something needed to be done, but it took months to find a strategy. King, with the advisement of James Bevel, eventually executed a plan that would be known as the Chicago Freedom Movement, which consisted of tenants’ unions, testing (acts used to identify discrimination), government meetings and marches.

The violence and racial tensions between the marchers and the mob of angry white Chicagoans became national televised news, calling attention to the uncomfortable truth that the North was also home to the racial animus people associated with the South. One day, when King was taken to the ground by a rock, he said, “I have seen many demonstrations in the South, but I have never seen anything so hostile and hateful as I’ve seen here today.”

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By John Cullerton

pres-cullertonThere is a great deal of irony and symbolism in top officials from Indiana and Wisconsin having to come to a federal courtroom in, of all places, Chicago to seek permission to continue to officially discriminate against some people.

Marriage for gays and lesbians became a reality here in June, and the Illinois Senate would have preferred it happen sooner.

Remember, Indiana and Wisconsin are two states my Republican friends keep telling me we should imitate because they are so business-friendly. Well, yes, unless you happen to be gay or lesbian, in which case Wisconsin and Indiana certainly don’t want any part of your business.

Keep that in mind the next time you see some group touting a report card or study that shows how great the business climate is in those states. Apparently little things like equality don’t factor in.

And if you think I’m being tough on our neighbors, consider the words of federal Judge Richard Posner, who recently authored the court opinion against Wisconsin and Indiana’s ban on gay marriage. In ruling the bans unconstitutional, Posner singled out Indiana’s marriage laws, saying the state had “invented an insidious form of discrimination: favoring first cousins, provided they are not of the same sex, over homosexuals.”

Lest you think Judge Posner to be a liberal leftist, he was appointed to the federal bench by President Reagan and is the same Judge Posner who two years ago authored the opinion striking down Illinois’ ban on the carrying of concealed weapons.

As for Indiana and Wisconsin, I’m quite sure there are lessons we can learn from them, but as Judge Posner’s words show, they’ve got quite a bit to learn from us.

johnjcullertonJohn J. Cullerton
Illinois Senate President

ili-logo-125x125Illinois boasts many benefits for its family and business residents. From a sprawling urban center to industrial hubs and the most fertile farmland in the world, our state continues to provide a diverse backdrop for economic success. Business in the Prairie State thrives, despite occasional bouts with political scandal and questionable management of government finances. Illinois’ nation-sized economy has evolved and progressed through a plethora of markets.

In short, Illinois is still fertile ground for business.

To further speak to these benefits and opportunities afforded to Illinois businesses, Doug Whitley, president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce from 2001 to 2014, composed an op-ed piece entitled “Why Illinois?” shedding light on the many strengths of Illinois’ business community, how our government can improve our business climate, our storied business history and where we truly stand in the national and global economy.

Whitley writes in his piece, “The goal for every public official should be to promote prosperity and job growth so the citizens of our state can achieve self-sufficiency and a better quality of life.”

To read the op-ed in its entirety, click here.

By John Cullerton. As it appeared, June 24, 2014 2:36PM - Chicago Sun-Times

pres-cullertonRemember when I announced, in the Sun-Times last April, that I like Illinois? I still do. I like Congressman Randy Hultgren, too. The problem is that he was wrong on the facts in a recent op-ed. He falls in line with the rest of the political naysayers slamming the door in the face of business with negative rhetoric and faulty allegations about our business climate.

Hultgren blames Illinois’ tax structure for businesses moving from our state to Wisconsin. Compared to Wisconsin — Hultgren’s business friendly wonderland — Illinois already has a lower corporate income tax rate: 7 percent, compared to 7.9 percent in Wisconsin. Furthermore, our corporate income tax rate is scheduled to drop to 5.25 percent at the end of the year, making it the lowest rate among its neighboring states. More important, according to the National Federation of Independent Business, 75 percent of the business community, comprised of smaller companies, pays the personal income tax rate and not the corporate income tax rate. Illinois’ personal income tax rate will soon be less than half of Wisconsin’s: 3.75 percent, compared with 7.65 percent in Wisconsin.

Hultgren points to Kenall Manufacturing as proof that Illinois taxes are forcing businesses from Illinois. Again, the facts state otherwise. Illinois and Wisconsin offered Kenall Manufacturing competing incentive packages. According to Randy Hernandez, Kenall’s executive vice president of operations, Wisconsin’s “package was clearly more aggressive.” Hultgren says the state should lower taxes and should not make special deals to lure businesses, yet, as an example he points to a business lured to Wisconsin by special deals.

Office Depot didn’t move to Florida because of taxes; rather, it moved because it had a long-term lease in Florida that it did not wish to break. Yet again, Hultgren’s claims about corporate taxes miss the mark. Office Depot didn’t expect to have a significant income tax liability, if any. In fact, two-thirds of Illinois corporations do not pay any corporate income taxes.

For every business choosing to leave the state, we can point to more corporations choosing to do business in Illinois. Navistar, which moved from neighboring Indiana, and Ford Motors have expanded operations in Illinois. With a highly trained work force and great transportation, it is little surprise that Site Selection magazine chose Chicago as the Top Metro in America, and Illinois as one of the top states for corporate facility investment. This trend is sure to continue with exciting projects like the Digital Lab for Manufacturing coming to Illinois. The Digital Lab is a $320 million partnership between academia, government and industry that will spur innovation in manufacturing.

Contrary to Hultgren’s doom and gloom, the Illinois unemployment rate just fell to its lowest level since November 2008. More accurately, the Pew Charitable Trusts publishes an employment rate placing Illinois’ job growth higher than the national average. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently announced that from 2009 to 2013, Illinois added 27,935 business establishments, and ranks fourth nationally. People and businesses aren’t moving from Illinois; rather, they are moving in.

Certainly, there is room for analysis and change in Springfield when it comes to our economic climate and our approach to incentives. While it is politically inconvenient for some, that doesn’t veil the fact that Illinois is on a path to economic progress.

johnjcullertonJohn J. Cullerton
Illinois Senate President