What Amazon can do for Illinois?

An open letter to Jeff Bezos

Dear Mr. Bezos,

I have been living in the Chicago area since 1985, almost exactly half of my life. The vibrant buzzing of life here infatuated me, and I hope it will attract Amazon as well. Political and business leaders will provide you with numbers and well-researched reasons for locating Amazon HQ2 in Illinois. I would like to share a few thoughts as an Illinois concerned citizen, an engineer, and a longtime small business owner.

Thanks to its location, Chicago is a blessed place. Since its incorporation in 1837, it has been a never-ending success. This is its biggest problem. People get accustomed that the wealth is given; one just needs to figure out the best way of dipping in it. When Illinoisans were busy creating wealth, politicians were busy redistributing it, outpacing the wealth growth to the point that both Illinois and Chicago are on the edge of insolvency.

The goals were noble. In the business world, people are paid according to their contributions, and some are not paid at all. Hence, government started helping those not so fortunate in doing well on their own. Many people who attempt to lure Amazon to Illinois tell their constituents that wealthy people -- as we hope potential employees of Amazon HQ2 will be -- should pay their fair share in taxes.

There is nothing wrong with this statement in general, but in Illinois -- and Chicago, in particular -- it means supporting the overblown government bureaucracy. They created a massive network of agencies supporting the poor, disadvantaged, and whoever else is influential enough to make a case that they need government involvement. This includes the affluent getting tax breaks, lucrative contracts, and preferential regulations.

An army of bureaucrats keeps this going. There are too many of them and they pay themselves too much. Their full time week is only 38 hours and many retire in their 50s. Despite that they tax us at no mercy, the deficit is still growing. They hope that Amazon HQ2 can extend the status quo for at least some time.

For too many, it is easier to advance financially not through the creation of wealth through services and products, but by competing for access to the wealth that multiple government agencies distribute. Obviously, this is not the “stable and business-friendly environment and tax structure” that Amazon is looking for.

Amazon can change this easily. When Illinoisans were not paying attention, government employees voted for themselves lucrative pensions, not correlated with the actual contributions to their pension funds. As this was obviously destined to collapse financially, they put into the Constitution of the State of Illinois a provision that promised lucrative pensions -- which they gave themselves -- cannot be taken away. Now these unfunded pension’s obligations amount to $130 billion and keep growing. The only viable solution is to convert the pension system into a 401(k) style retirement funds.

There is no political will in Illinois and in Chicago for this much-needed change. As a condition for bringing HQ2, Amazon can and should ask for transforming pensions of government employees into a financially sustainable system. The Constitution of the State of Illinois is not a bible; it can be changed. This will not resolve all of the problems, but it will take away the heaviest burden.

Many will tell you how much Illinois and Chicago can do for Amazon. Please consider doing something for Illinois. You are in this rare position where one person can do so much. It can help us a lot, but with the pensions issue resolved, Amazon might find Illinois as the best candidate for its HQ2 as well.

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