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Reeder: Migration hurting the 'Land of Lincoln'

Published: Tuesday, March 11, 2014 8:45 p.m. CST

SPRINGFIELD – One of my favorite books is John Steinbeck’s “The Grapes of Wrath.”

In that epic tome, farmers from across Oklahoma load up all of their earthy goods on to Model T’s and flee the Dust Bowl for California in the midst of the Great Depression.

It’s easy to see that great exodus along Route 66 as the face of migration from one state to another.

Poor folks still load up dilapidated cars with what they own and seek out opportunity.

But that isn’t the only face of migration.

When corporate executives or well-heeled retirees move, it is done with professional movers. And you can often discern who the wealthiest of these households are by the amount of furniture and other belongings they have shipped.

So what do East Coast, Midwest and West Coast states like Pennsylvania, Illinois and California have in common?

All three are high-tax states, said Joseph Henchman, a vice president at the Tax Foundation. On the other hand, Florida and Texas are much lower tax states.

“Illinois is particularly vulnerable to more out-migration because its neighbors – Wisconsin and Indiana – are busy lowering their taxes,” Henchman added.

On the other hand, the Illinois Legislature jacked up our income taxes by 67 percent back in 2011.

This has hurt folks from all economic groups. And for folks who make their living making business decisions, it has created one more incentive to leave Illinois. While it’s easy to shrug off the rich guy across town leaving, there is good reason for all of us to be concerned.

Have you ever worked for a business person poorer than yourself? Me neither.

Even those working in the public sector need to remember where taxes come from to pay for their jobs. And yet, Illinois is consistently pursuing policies that are pushing these job creators to more hospitable business climates.

And where those jobs go, poor and middle-class Illinoisans are sure to follow as well.

When successful retirees leave, they are no longer spending money in the Land of Lincoln, paying taxes here or donating to Illinois charities. And that equates to fewer jobs for the rest of us. And ultimately that is why all of us should be concerned.

• Scott Reeder is a veteran statehouse reporter and the journalist in residence at the Illinois Policy Institute. He can be reached at sreeder@illinoispolicy.org.

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