September 14, 2012 – Wheaton, Illinois – “We’ve now been in office over 1,000 days, and there’s not been a hint, not a mention of scandal in this administration. And, there’s no chance we’ll go back.” To anyone who has even remotely followed Illinois politics, these words, in that order, seem almost foreign. But they were spoken just days ago by Governor Chris Christie, who leads a state once considered to be one of the most corrupt and disordered in the nation.
The fact that Illinois seems mired in corruption, with problems that are overwhelming in their number and complexity can be daunting. Governor Christie’s report, however, offers encouragement for our state. It is a testimonial revealing the direction steadfast principles, strength of character and courage of conviction will lead.
In his speech, Governor Christie went on to state that, “You have not seen that (corruption) out of state government or this administration in the entire time we’ve been here because the people I’ve asked to come with me understand one rule: that we are not in this for ourselves; that we are in this for the people who have given us the privilege and honor to serve.” Compare the idea of an administration committed to leadership that benefits their constituents with the images of Rod Blagojevich attempting to sell Barak Obama’s senate seat or Mike Madigan who, according to a June 2012 Chicago Tribune Editorial, “leverages power for political revenge, even at tax-payers’ expense.”
Additionally, as a result of the abysmal leadership of the Chicago Machine, Illinois’ economic outlook is suffering from a huge state debt burden, rising business costs and few growth drivers. Four years ago, New Jersey’s economy was in a similar condition. Today, through the expansion of the Business Retention & Relocation Assistance Grant (BRRAG) and the Urban Hub Tax Credit, New Jersey has been able to retain companies and jobs in the state and encourage investment in their cities. Additionally, programs such as the Business Employment Incentive Program (BEIP) and the transformational Economic Redevelopment & Growth (ERG) program have encouraged economic development and job creation in the state. These innovative programs have resulted in dramatic increases in the amount of total public/private investments, as well as in an increase in the number of new businesses, and new and existing jobs.
By contrast in Illinois, we lose a $1.4 billion fertilizer plant to Iowa even though the University of Chicago graduate making the investment decision admits to having a sentimental attachment to Illinois and acknowledges that Illinois offered a more generous tax incentive package. Mr. Sawiris instead located 4 miles over the border in Iowa. In a news conference, he explained that he feared the long term costs of locating in a state with corruption, large pension debt and the threat of increasing taxes.
Finally, the education policies of Illinois and New Jersey just a few years ago were very similar. Today, we watch as the Chicago Teacher’s Union bullies public school administrators into pay increases and extravagant benefits, while over 350,000 children are ignored – their need for a competitive education lost in a sea of red shirts screaming about “their schools.” In New Jersey, Governor Christie faced an under-performing school system and overly powerful teacher’s union. Christie showed backbone. He put children first by challenging the system. In doing so, his administration moved the state away from an antiquated, ineffective model that propped up failing schools and toward a system that demanded accountability, rewarded highly effective teachers, utilized performance standards and ensured that each and every child received the education they deserved. He turned the system inside out.
These reforms were not easy to make, but Christie’s strong leadership has turned the Garden State around, and we can do the same in Illinois. Wouldn’t it be nice to make the claim, as Christie did, that “There is a whole new image of [our state] that is not the butt of jokes on late night television … We spend more time on the evening news and Sunday talk shows, talking about what [this state] is doing right.” New Jersey has earned the right to be proud once again. With bold, new leadership, we could do the same in Illinois. And, when we have leadership who can do that, there will be no chance we’ll go back.