Illinois Jobs Need to be Job One

-By Illinois GOP House Leader Tom Cross

For nearly 100 years, Modern Drop Forge employees have been manufacturing metal forging tools in Blue Island. In August, the company announced it was moving to Indiana and taking 240 jobs with it. The reason: Illinois’ “poor business environment”–specifically, workers compensation laws and high taxes.

How many more companies and good jobs are we willing to let go before we get serious about workers compensation, regulatory, tort and tax reform?

In January, after Illinois’ governor and Democrats in the General Assembly passed the largest income tax hike and corporate tax hike in state history, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels actively began recruiting Illinois businesses. He isn’t alone. Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey came to Illinois and ran TV ads after the tax vote marketing his state to businesses.

Do I fault these governors for trying to bring jobs to their states? No. They have made growing jobs their No. 1 priority. Indiana in particular has implemented job-friendly policies and is succeeding.

At fault is our failure to keep Illinois competitive and adopt a cohesive pro-business strategy to retain and attract new employers. Rather than making Illinois’ tax and business policies attractive to all employers, Gov. Pat Quinn is doing damage control–offering special packages to large employers when they threaten to leave the state.

In May, Democrats passed a bill that they claim is workers compensation reform. Again, Illinois took a baby step where a bold leap was required.

Employer after employer has told me the most important reform we need to enact is causation–making sure injuries claimed under workers compensation actually occurred on the job or are predominantly work-related. When Florida enacted a similar reform in 2003, workers compensation costs there decreased by nearly 70%. Here in Illinois, Democrats and the trial lawyers refused to even consider causation.

Another major flaw in the Democrats’ new workers compensation law is their watering-down of guidelines for determining the extent of a worker’s disability. While negotiating their plan, Democrats pledged to leading business associations and to Caterpillar Inc. that they would use American Medical Assn. guidelines to assess claimed workplace injuries. The initial agreement emphasized the objective assessment of the injury. In the end, though, Democrats broke their pledge and weakened their legislation by adding a variety of outside factors to the assessment. Because of the change, Caterpillar, the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and the National Federation of Independent Business were unable to support the bill as written.

We agree with the vast majority of employers that Illinois needs stricter standards and more comprehensive reforms to improve our jobs climate and economy.

It’s time to go on the offensive, armed with a plan that includes real workers compensation reforms and competitive tax rates.

Op Ed originally published by Crain’s, written by Tom Cross.

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