Editor's note: This article is the first in a two-part series stemming from a conversation with State Rep. Terri Bryant, R-Mt. Vernon.

MT. VERNON — Illinois' high Worker's Compensation rate and dismal credit rating have put a real strain on businesses, said State Rep. Terri Bryant.

Until these issues are dealt with, Illinois will continue to lose manufacturers and residents to states with a more welcoming business climate, Bryant said.

“Our worker's comp rate is as much as three times higher than our surrounding states and so we haven't done a very good job yet of addressing that issue,” Bryant said. “I personally think that we actually are going to have to see a movement toward more Republican representation in the House in order to make that happen. So hopefully in this next election we'll see a move that will bring in more individuals that are less dependent upon the trial lawyers.”

As of 2014, Illinois had the seventh highest Worker's Compensation premium rate in the U.S. at $2.35 per $100 of payroll, according to media reports.

Also, the state's credit rating is one of the lowest in the nation, which is a big problem for attracting businesses, Bryant said.

“If the state's credit rating is low, it hampers the state's ability to recruit new businesses into the state because we can't offer infrastructure enhancements, we can't offer tax (incentives),” Bryant said. “(A)s the state's credit rating continues to improve, I think we'll see a little more stability. … We're going to lose population as long as we continue to lose manufacturing jobs.”

Bryant said she was happy to see the delegation from the Japanese Consulate's Chicago office visit Jefferson County Nov. 29 to tour local businesses and learn about the region's economy.

The visit, facilitated by Jefferson County Development Corporation Executive Director Jonathon Hallberg, was part of a long-term strategy to encourage foreign interest and development in Jefferson County.

“We have to first of all introduce some individuals from around the country to the wealth of our workforce here,” Bryant said.

Bryant said Japanese Consulate Consul General Naoki Ito was most impressed by the vital role community colleges play in this region.

“So because the community colleges here have been willing to partner with manufacturers like Continental (Tire), like AISIN, it sends a message to manufacturers that if you come here, we have a ready-made workforce,” Bryant said. “And in the areas that we might be weak, we can very quickly partner in this region with one of our five community colleges to make sure that the job force is trained specifically for what your need is.”

In addition, Bryant pointed out that Illinois' tourism industry has been damaged by the state not having a budget in place for two-and-a-half years. The state approved its budget in July.

She said in the next fiscal year, legislators hope to work with state agencies to ensure the Rend Lake Resort gets the funds it needs to re-open and that the World Shooting and Recreational Complex in Sparta is once again open to the general public. The Sparta complex may open in the early spring, Bryant said.

“As we continue to work towards keeping budgets in place, and we now have revenue, we can focus a lot on what our number one industry in Southern Illinois is — tourism and farming,” Bryant said.

Bryant also stressed the importance of the state's pension crisis. Currently, Illinois has an unfunded pension liability of more than $130 billion, media reports state.

The General Assembly has approved an optional Tier III “hybrid” retirement plan for state retirees and public school teachers to help address the problem. Projections were the plan would provide $500 million in savings for the current fiscal year but it has not yet been implemented. Tier II participants can opt into the new plan.

“Because it's totally voluntary, it makes it constitutionally sound,” Bryant said. “People are very uncomfortable about the idea of a 401-K system, so I think it will help to ease some of the angst about going in that direction.”

Moving forward, the state needs to continue to make its pension payments in full and on time so the “pension ramp” will start to level off in the decades to come, Bryant said.

“We have a little ways to go on that still, so we need to make sure we don't get ourselves into that mess again,” she said.

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