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Todd Maisch, Illinois Chamber of Commerce president and CEO, spoke at the Community Update Breakfast on Thursday. 

CHARLESTON -- The structure of a thriving Illinois economy is in place but is damaged by state lawmakers unwilling to make key reforms in business, according to the state chamber of commerce president.

There is a lot of “potential in the state if we can just get out of our own way,” Todd Maisch, president and CEO of the state chamber, said when addressing community members at the Community Update Breakfast on Thursday.

He cited Illinois as having the 17th largest economy in the world, having foreign business money flooding into the state and having business spread throughout the state, but Illinois is stifling it.

“Growing the economy is the piece we really haven't gotten done,” he continued. “That has been the biggest casualty of what I call the political death match between the (Gov. Bruce Rauner) and (state Speaker Mike Madigan).”

“Returning to fiscal sanity is by far the overarching issue for us,” Maisch said.

Maisch spoke on several reforms and cuts such as pension and worker’s compensation reform that he and the state chamber see as vital to moving this forward and attracting business back into the state.

“There have been some cuts but not enough -- not where we really need them,” he said. “We gotta take another look at pension reform. It is going to bankrupt our states.”

And he said that worker compensation reform is “absolutely critical,” noting Illinois has the seventh-most expensive system for worker’s compensation in the country.

These are issues Republican lawmakers have been attempting to push to the forefront for years without much success, the speaker noted. And from Maisch's perspective, there is still a long way to go before movement is seen on these issues.

More recently, the governor has proposed passing the pension bills on to more local entities in order to make them more accountable. These local entities are already questioning the potential success of that, though.

As far as worker’s compensation, the issue seems moot at this point.

“I don’t hear any of the Democrats talking about worker’s compensation in a meaningful way,” he said.

Maisch sees more potential in other areas in which the chamber has vested interest, including property tax reform.

“Property taxes are something that could get some attention after the election,” he said, no matter who wins.

“Democrats and Republicans both complain about property taxes,” he said.

Outside of those issues, the state chamber has adopted another focus -- technology. The chamber president said state lawmakers have been attempting to raise a few bills that target regulating the industry even further.

Maisch described it as a “War on Technology.” He said this has been a reaction to growing companies like Google. But the bills have been vague enough to include any company with a website, he said.

“Every single one of your companies is a technology company as well,” he told the audience.

He said these bills, one he mentioned that was successfully stopped, make it easier to be out of compliance, opening up businesses to lawsuits. He said these state measures he mentioned focus on regulating face recognition, privacy and geolocation.

Also, Maisch said the state chamber is currently discussing its stance on the legalization of marijuana for recreational use, which might become an inevitability in the near future. The state chamber is currently opposed to the idea, but discussions are ongoing.

The breakfast was co-sponsored by the Charleston Area Chamber of Commerce and the Mattoon Chamber of Commerce.



Jarad Jarmon is a reporter for the JG-TC. He covers the city of Charleston, Eastern Illinois University, Mattoon schools and the Regional Office of Education.

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