The St. Charles Chamber of Commerce Legislative Committee provides a series of programs that provide meaningful information to Chamber members on federal, state, and local legislative topics.
Today, Doug Whitley, President and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, addressed a group of approximately 90 community and business leaders from St. Charles, Geneva, and Elgin at a breakfast meeting sponsored by the Chambers of Commerce.
Whitley knows his stuff. As president and CEO of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce, he leads the Chamber’s charge to aggressively promote the interests of Illinois business. Whitley has been a registered Illinois lobbyist for more than 30 years. Whitley has a long record of business leadership and expertise in taxation and regulation, which he has earned in a career spanning the public and private sectors. Before joining the Illinois Chamber, Whitley was President of Ameritech Illinois (now AT&T). Whitley served two years as Director of the Illinois Department of Revenue during the administration of Governor Jim Edgar. Prior to that, Whitley was president of the Taxpayers’ Federation of Illinois for 14 years. In earlier years, he was a legislative staff member in the Illinois House of Representatives.
During his remarks, Whitley provided his opinions and insights on the current condition of Illinois government and the major challenges that face the state. The most important issue is the underfunded pension programs. Whitley called pension reform "the single biggest task" facing state government right now. He said that "we can't afford it" and that a reduction in the state's bond rating or making the 2011 income tax increase permanent is certainly on the horizon, if action is not taken.
Whitley advocated for changes that would address the difficulties caused by compounding annual increases of 3%, allowing workers to retire at ages 50-55, and pensions being paid for a longer period of time than the employee worked. He recommended that businesses get behind the Nekritz/Biss pension reform plan that 21 legislators have co-sponsored. You can read more about that plan here.
Whitley commended Governor Pat Quinn for doing many things to improve the state's fiscal condition, including closing state facilities, not giving raises to state employees, modifying the Medicaid program, and requiring employees to contribute more for health insurance. However, he said that these things are "too incremental" and more significant action is needed.
Whitley also answered questions from audience members regarding a variety of topics, including the effectiveness of Governor Quinn's leadership, the probability of Illinois becoming a right-to-work state, the lack of any substantial economic development policy in Illinois, and the impact of the Democratic Party of Illinois in state legislative elections.
In concluding his remarks, Whitley said that business leaders need to contact their legislators and ask one simply question, "Why do we make it so hard to do business in Illinois?" He advocated that area businesses get involved and encourage legislators to work to make Illinois a more job-friendly climate.
Attendees left the session better informed and inspired to work to improve the business climate, both locally and in Illinois.