SPRINGFIELD – Texas Gov. Rick Perry is bringing his state's economic road show to Illinois next week, pitching low income taxes and a strong economy to businesses used to hearing bad news about their own state's pension troubles and high unemployment.
But Gov. Pat Quinn and even the head of Illinois' Republican Party say that, under the circumstances, Perry isn't exactly welcome. Over the past few years Illinois has weathered similar poaching expeditions by the governors of Wisconsin, Indiana and New Jersey
And economic experts point out that the trip may not amount to much more than bluster and politics.
Perry, who launched a similar pitch in California earlier this year, started his Illinois pitch this week with an aggressive, $80,000 broadcast and print ad campaign urging companies to "Get out while there's still time." He plans a Chicago visit next Monday and Tuesday.
The idea, Perry said, is to "spur competition between states and recruit jobs and employees to Texas."
Quinn, citing a recent trade mission to Mexico to promote Illinois companies and the groundbreaking earlier this week of Danish water pump company Grundfos' North American headquarters in suburban Chicago, said Illinois can hold its own against Texas.
"We know how to do it in Illinois. We don't need any advice from Gov. Perry," Quinn told reporters at the State Capitol.
His office dismissed the trip by Perry, whom Quinn shared a room with during a 2009 tour of Afghanistan and Iraq, as a publicity stunt.
"He's a big talker," Quinn said.
Illinois Republican Party Chairman Pat Brady said he'd welcome Perry if he wanted to offer support to Republican gubernatorial candidates. But a recruiting trip, he can do without.
"I like Gov. Perry, he's been a good leader for Texas, but I don't think it's productive for him to come in here and do this so publicly," Brady said. "Stealing jobs from Illinois is not going to help."
Perry, who has said he is considering running for president again in 2016, frequently travels to blue states with big Republican donors, including California, to try to recruit businesses to Texas. In Chicago, he will speak at the 2013 BIO International Convention.
Illinois' economic problems have been well documented in recent years: a multibillion-dollar government budget deficit; close to $100 billion in unfunded state pension liabilities — the worst such tab in the country — that credit-rating agencies have used to charge the state more to borrow; and what business leaders say is a reputation as a high-tax state that isn't friendly to them. Illinois raised its personal income tax rate in 2011.
The head of heavy equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. blasted state officials last year in a newspaper editorial over the state's troubles.
While open pitches from other states with Republican governors haven't amounted to much, Quinn and lawmakers have made extraordinary efforts to keep companies in the state. In 2011, he signed $100 million in tax breaks and incentives for Sears Holding Corp and CME Group Inc., which operates the Chicago Mercantile Exchange and Chicago Board of Trade. The companies had threatened to leave.
Perry's sales pitch includes a number of reminders about Texas' economic strength: Almost four times the volume of exports as Illinois; a 6.4 percent unemployment rate, compared to the 9.5 percent rate in Illinois that's among the nation's highest; low union membership (5.7 percent of the workforce compared to Illinois 14.6) and lower energy costs, among them.
The numbers, most of which come from federal government sources such as the Department of Labor, are accurate.
But some are dated, like the claim that Illinois companies spend $1.10 for every $100 of employees' wages on worker's compensation compared to Texas' 39 cents. That one was true in 2009, but Illinois has since changed its workers compensation law to lower costs, earning praise from the insurance industry group that sets advisory rates.
Quinn offered his own doubts about Texas, noting Wednesday that the state is, as he put it, "water challenged." Parts of Texas have suffered serious drought over the past few years.
All of that is beside the point, argues Brent Pollina of Pollina Corporate Real Estate in Park Ridge, a Chicago suburb. The firm helps companies find sites for offices and other facilities, and has worked in Texas.
"In the end it doesn't matter — anybody who was considering going to Texas already knows about Texas," said Pollina, adding that Illinois makes an easy target for Republican governors looking to score easy points. "They can go and make political hay out of beating up on the slowest kid in the room."
If Perry's strategy is in part political, Brady said, it's not a good one.
"I don't think it's a great way to impress Republican donors," Brady said, adding that even a harsh critic of Illinois' current leadership like himself wants the state to succeed. "We live, work and pay taxes here."
Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed denied that Perry's trips to major, high-population states like California and Texas have a political motive.
"Any time you go out to another state and have a message of low taxes," she said, "people are going to want it to be political, but in reality it's about how can we be talking to companies on alternatives." ___ David Mercer reported from Champaign, Ill. Contact Sophia Tareen at www.twitter.com/sophiatareen Contact David Mercer at www.twitter.com/davidmercerap