Study: Illinois not so sweet a land of liberty

Originally Posted Online: April 02, 2013, 6:00 pm
Last Updated: April 03, 2013, 8:46 am
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Illinois is one of the least free states in the nation.

At least that's the case according to the findings of a study released this week that ranked the states based on how much state government policies promote freedom.

The Prairie State ranks 45th, and that number has decreased each year that the George Mason University's Mercatus Center has put out the report.

Of the three categories the researchers looked at, Illinois ranks particularly low in two. The state is last when it comes to personal freedom, 42nd in regulatory policy and 29th in fiscal policy, according to the study.

In the most recent version, researchers also went back and analyzed data for 2001. That year, Illinois ranked 29th.

Jason Sorens, one of the study's authors, cited several reasons for Illinois' drop, including an increase in tobacco taxes, a statewide smoking ban that he said is more restrictive than California's, a "big decline in how businesses rate the court system," state and local debt, and unfunded liabilities in the pension system.

Sorens, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Buffalo, said Illinois residents and politicians alike should be worried about the state's low ranking because a lack of freedom could be causing the state to lose business opportunities and population to neighboring states.

"Illinois has a net out-migration of 5.4 percent over the decade," he said. "That means that far more people are leaving Illinois then coming in."

Sorens said he believes those people are moving to the freer neighboring states.

"We have strong statistical evidence that freer states attract more people," he said. "Especially a state like Indiana that's No. 1 on regulatory policy and only becoming more free in that area. It seems likely that a lot of businesses will look at Indiana instead of Illinois."

Indiana ranks 16th overall in the study.

Critics, however, say they are worried by the subjective nature of the definition of freedom.

"There are a lot of variables that bring into question what exactly freedom is," said state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline. "Is a lack of government freedom? I don't believe it always is."

Jacobs said he was also skeptical of the claim that people leave Illinois because of a lack of freedom.

"If you look at the bigger states they sometimes have less freedom," he said. "But they also have a bigger population. If you want more freedom, you can move to the middle of South Dakota. But I really don't think people will."

But state Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said he believes that business regulations and laws that take away personal freedom are contributing to people leaving the state.

"We're over-regulated, over-taxed, and our liberties are being taken away," Meier said. "And the more we continue to over-regulate the more we are going to drive people and businesses out of this state."

Sorens suggested some ways that Illinois could improve its ranking, including reforming the court system, which he said was rated poorly in a survey of business owners and managers that was conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

He also said that making it more difficult for state and local governments to take on debt and reducing future unfunded liabilities in the pension system could increase the state's ranking.


Local events heading

  Today is Tuesday, Sept 2, the 245th day of 2014. There are 120 days left in the year.

1864 — 150 years ago: It is estimated that 300,000 people attended the recent Democratic convention in Chicago when Gen. George B. McClellan of New Jersey was nominated as a candidate for president of the United States.
1889 — 125 years ago: Alderman Frank Ill, Winslow Howard and Captain J.M. Montgomery returned from Milwaukee, where they attended the national Grand Army of the Republic encampment.
1914 — 100 years ago: Three members of the Rock Island YMCA accepted positions as physical directors of other associations. Albert Cook went to Kewanee, C.D. Curtis to Canton and Willis Woods to Leavenworth, Kan.
1939 — 75 years ago: Former President Herbert Hoover appealed for national support of President F.D. Roosevelt and Congress in every effort to keep the United States out of war.
1964 — 50 years ago: The Rock Island Junior chamber pf Commerce has received answers to about 65 % of the 600 questionnaires mailed out recently in a "Community Attitude Survey" to analyze sentiments of citizens towards their city's various recreational, educational, and civic service programs.
1989 — 25 years ago: The two thunderstorms passing through the Quad Cities last night and early today left some area residents reaching for their flashlights.

(More History)