Refusing to walk away from chance to make Illinois better
There's no question that Illinois faces many challenges. High property taxes, aging infrastructure and years of disinvestment from higher education have certainly made it tougher for young people to choose to live in Illinois. As recently elected officials under the age of 30, we see those challenges both at work and at home. Rebuilding Illinois will take time, hard work and tough choices.
Unlike some doomsayers, however, we believe in Illinois' future. There has been a concerted effort by activists, politicians and the media to promote a narrative of Illinois exodus. Most recently in the Daily Herald, far right-wing activist Charlie Kirk announced his move from Illinois to Florida. We and other young elected officials objected to Mr. Kirk being given that platform for reasons we describe in a letter to medium.com at https://link.medium.com/t6ZKW7zqqY. But we also object to his suggestion that Illinois is beyond repair and should be abandoned.
Illinois has tremendous resources to help rebuild after years of manufactured crisis. We boast 37 Fortune 500 companies, including eight in the top 100. We have one of the great American cities. Here in the suburbs, we have safe communities, gorgeous lakefront and some of the best school districts in the country. That's why, even as some move out, others are moving in from all over the world to get their children the best possible education. No one who has toured Stevenson High School, biked through Independence Grove, or spent an afternoon at Illinois Beach State Park could say our community isn't worth saving.
Many young elected officials have been in office only for a few months, but the work of rebuilding Illinois has already begun. This year, the state legislature passed and the governor signed a capital construction plan for the first time in 10 years. This phenomenal accomplishment will allow Illinois to upgrade its infrastructure, expand science programs at our universities and create thousands of new jobs. And yes, Mr. Kirk, some of those new jobs will be union; we cannot maintain a strong middle class while excluding and demonizing the organizations that helped build the middle class in the first place.
In our respective local offices, we also have taken significant steps to improve the quality of life for young people. On the Lake County Board, we've updated our strategic plan to help push for a more modern transportation system, partnered with Metra and local businesses to develop reverse-commute options and started an Energy & Environment Committee to help Lake County respond to the threat of climate change. On the Barrington Village Board, we've recently launched the Village Environmental Advisory Committee and are actively looking to involve more young people in the upcoming comprehensive planning process that will set the tone for years to come.
Mr. Kirk is correct to note that states are the laboratories of democracy. In the last 10 years, several states have experimented with dramatic revenue and service cuts. Kansas, most dramatically, found that drastic budget-busting tax cuts do not pay for themselves with supposed economic growth. Instead, they generated hundreds of millions of dollars in new annual deficits with "hardly any measurable economic activity," according to Jim Denning, a conservative Republican state senator interviewed by the Atlantic in 2017. More recently, the conservative governor of Alaska ordered a 41% cut in higher education funding. Replicating that in Illinois would equal an $820 million cut, likely shutting down multiple public universities and community colleges.
Most importantly, the people opposed to the Kansas Experiment didn't give up. Instead of driving their own supporters to leave the state, they stayed, they fought and they won. The new Democratic governor worked with the Republican legislature to undo the experiment and reinvest in their state. If Mr. Kirk truly believes that his message is persuasive, that all this new investment will somehow backfire and Illinois should go the route of Kansas, he should stay and make his case. There will always be challenges in Illinois and every state. Similarly, there will be those who try to lead and be part of the solution and those like Mr. Kirk who chose to walk away.
Adam Didech, 29, of Buffalo Grove, is a member of the Lake County Board. Emily Young, 25, is a village trustee in Barrington.