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EDITORIAL: Illinois another cautionary tale about big government

California isn’t the only progressive paradise that’s experiencing a population exodus. The blue fiscal basket case known as Illinois is in even worse shape.

Baby boomers love Illinois. Long wooed by the promise of generous public pension benefits, boomers have largely stayed put in Illinois, helping to raise the state’s median age by more than two years over the past decade. But young adults don’t quite share boomers’ love for the Land of Lincoln.

Faced with the cold shower of the state’s over-regulation, high taxes and generational legacy debt, more and more millennials and other younger Illinoisans have been hitting the road. According to a new study by the University of Illinois Extension, this out-migration of young folks has led Illinois to become one of three states (along with West Virginia and Mississippi) to see a drop in its overall population since 2010.

As the Wall Street Journal outlined recently, this mass exodus is largely driven by students who leave Illinois for college and never return. And it’s not hard to figure out why they decide to stay away. For starters, the state’s residential tax rate is the second highest in the nation — second only to New Jersey. Its corporate tax rate is among the highest in the nation.

These high taxes have stifled growth, sending jobs — as well as the young people seeking them — out of state.

Illinois is also seeing a mass exodus of children. The University of Illinois study found that the state’s underperforming schools — long at the mercy of Big Labor — could be a key factor in driving away young families. The state’s under-18 population has declined by 350,000 over the past decade, putting Illinois on a similar fiscal path to the one that bankrupted Puerto Rico, some observers fear.

Illinois has long been run by powerful Democrats in service of government unions. According to a recent Wirepoints study, the burden of the state’s pension debt alone is four times more than the national average and the second highest in the nation after Connecticut. As the Illinois Policy Institute aptly suggests, state lawmakers owe it to millennials and future generations to get their state’s massive generational inequity under control.

Illinois, much like California, should be a cautionary tale for growing states such as Nevada. If you want to retain and attract young people, it makes sense to rein in public pension expenses and to decrease the cost of doing business while removing regulatory barriers that stifle entrepreneurialism. Continuing to kick the can down the road on these issues will lead only to young folks following the can right out of the state.

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