Crystal ball shows poor outlook for American businesses under President Pritzker

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker visited New Hampshire and Florida this summer as part of what many viewed as a campaign for the Democratic Party's nomination for president of the United States.

While Pritzker used the more recent Florida speech to tout his partisan victories, his record on business growth and the economy in Illinois was notably absent. He did talk about starting his own "successful business" and business incubator, but the effort he put into his own enterprises has, again, been notably absent on behalf of other Illinois businesses.

Pritzker's first term as governor and his actions toward business owners and economic growth in Illinois offer the best indicators of how his policies might look at the national level. Looking into that crystal ball to see the future, the outlook for the nation and its business sector isn't good.

What has the Illinois model been for nearly four years? Pritzker began his term by promising he would phase out the corporate franchise tax to give relief to 300,000 small businesses. He failed to deliver on his promise, then imposed $650 million in tax and fee hikes on businesses at a time when small business owners were trying to survive a pandemic.

Then, Pritzker's restrictions on businesses during the pandemic only further inhibited and discouraged growth. He enforced COVID-19 mandates by threatening business owners with jail time if they did not comply with lockdowns.

Whatever results Pritzker's pandemic policies may have produced for public health, they had a very negative impact on the state's businesses climate and employment conditions. Today, Illinois is still missing 88,600 jobs compared to before the pandemic while the rest of the nation has fully recovered. That number equates to 1 in 9 jobs lost since the mandated shutdowns began. The slow recovery is spread across most of the state: out of Illinois' 15 metropolitan areas, only Bloomington-Normal has recovered all the jobs it had before the pandemic.

These missing jobs and closed businesses contribute to Illinois now having the highest unemployment rate in the Midwest and the third-highest nationwide. Illinois is experiencing one of the worst pandemic recoveries in the nation.

It hasn't helped that Pritzker has refused to address longtime anti-business policies that inhibit growth, such as regulations that make Illinois the third-most regulated state. Illinois' economy has paid the price of Pritzker's continued inaction. This summer alone, three major employers - Citadel, Caterpillar and Boeing - fled Illinois for other states with more business-friendly environments.

Instead of seeing the departures as a sign to implement pro-business reforms and resuscitate the state's business climate, Pritzker turned the exoduses into a joke. During his Florida speech, Pritzker "apologized" to Floridians for sending Citadel CEO Ken Griffin to the Sunshine State. The governor's approach to business policy sent potentially more than 1,000 jobs, billions in state income tax revenue and hundreds of millions in philanthropic donations to another state - and he laughed about it.

Pritzker may say he likes to get "big things done," but his actions reflect someone who would rather distort little things to prop up his own image instead of working on the tough tasks to solve deep-seated economic problems. The result: Illinois is left with fewer jobs, less opportunity and less hope.

With inflation continuing to skyrocket and a recession on the rise, pro-business policies should be at the top of all state and national legislative agendas. Both Pritzker the governor and Pritzker the potential presidential candidate would be wise to recalibrate and put the needs of everyday workers and small business owners first.

One last look into the crystal ball shows a much brighter future if politicians at all levels put results over rhetoric. They need to support policies that encourage business and job growth and foster a stable, healthy economy that lasts beyond any of their terms. Political candidates come and go, but a strong economy would give Illinois and the nation a reliable foundation for all time.

• Matt Paprocki is president of the Illinois Policy Institute.

Matt Paprocki
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