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What Separates Dying Illinois From Thriving Missouri: High Taxes, Democrat Political Corruption Disastrous Local Policies

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Above photo: Abandoned and boarded up buildig in Cairo, Illinois.

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Taxes Separate Dying Illinois From Thriving Missouri

High taxes, political corruption, and disastrous local policies drive decline in southern Illinois as nearby Missouri prospers

By Jackson Elliott, The Epoch Times, July 30, 2021

On the I-57 highway through Illinois, time seems to go backward with each southbound mile.

The houses and cars in the yards get older. As years pass, town populations shrink. Eventually, homes turn back into piles of disconnected wood and glass, then empty lots. At the end of the highway, the town of Cairo slowly sinks back into the confluence of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

A town of 15,000 people in the 1920s, Cairo now houses fewer than 2,000 residents. Today, the town is so silent that the few voices heard while walking the streets underscore its emptiness.

Cairo’s citizens live between abandoned buildings and walk sidewalks covered in burrs. Many work in Missouri or Kentucky.

Glenn Collier is one of the few Cairo residents with a job in the city. He’s a general contractor. Although he has lived in Cairo for most of his life, he said he only stays because he has family in the area.

“The closest place that you’ll find a job around here is probably 30 miles away,” Collier told The Epoch Times.

Even Cairo’s gas stations have gone out of business, and residents buy their food from the local Dollar Store, Collier said. The nearest grocery store selling unprocessed meat is miles away.

Over the past 30 years, Alexander County, where Cairo is located, has lost nearly a third of its population. Although not all southern Illinois counties have experienced such a drastic loss, all are shrinking.

It’s tempting to blame this population loss on the “rural decay” trends that afflict many other places in the United States. But according to the people who live there, what’s happening in southern Illinois, locally known as “Little Egypt,” is the result of decades of destructive government policies.

Just across the Mississippi River, some Missouri counties are growing. And none of Missouri’s counties have lost population at the same rate as the fastest-shrinking southern Illinois counties.
Epoch Times Photo
Buildings crumble beside the brick street of historic downtown Cairo, Ill., on July 20, 2021. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)
Big Trouble in Little Egypt

Cairo is the way it is because of decades of political corruption, rejected business opportunities, and high taxes, Collier said.

“There were lots of businesses at one time,” Collier said. “Cairo was a very popular destination. People from the tri-state area would come here to do the grocery shopping and clothes and all that type of stuff.”

The local government in Cairo has often been corrupt, Collier noted. Public utilities were charged at different prices in different locations. A pair of volunteer firefighters burned down houses in 2012 because they only got paid when fighting a fire.

Despite Cairo’s excellent location on two rivers, corruption and poor policy turned it into a ruin. But less than an hour away, the river town of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, is prospering. In the past decade, its county population grew by 4 percent.

Dozens of shops line Cape Girardeau’s streets. A few storefronts are for lease, but the town’s streets bustle with life. Unlike in Illinois towns, people stroll the streets on a weekday. Nothing’s overgrown, and the people look happier.
Mayberry in the Midwest

Although most Americans know little about rural Illinois, it matters when America’s small towns rot. Rural Illinois towns may not be places people visit, but they’re often the places where impactful people come from.

The list of famous rural Illinois people is surprisingly long. It includes actor Dick van Dyke, Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmum, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Jeane Kirkpatrick, actor John Malkovich, and Abraham Lincoln. Memorial Day was created by Murphysboro, Illinois, resident Gen. John Logan.

Murphysboro local Jane Cottonaro calls Gen. Logan “Johnny.”

“Murphysboro used to be real friendly,” Cottonaro said. “Everybody knew everybody.”
Epoch Times Photo
Jane Cottonaro, a hairdresser, in her shop in Murphysboro, Ill., on July 20,2021. (Jackson Elliott/The Epoch Times)

But the town has become less close as people have left and gotten fewer economic opportunities, she admitted.

Cottonaro said that the close community ties in Murphysboro still make the town special. Residents of other southern Illinois towns say similar things about their own communities.

“This is where I was born,” Cairo resident Tony Baker said. “If I go somewhere else, it’s probably going to be a city. This is country. It would be like Andy Griffith moving out of Mayberry.”

Holly Harrell, another Cairo resident, shared Baker’s sense of community.

“There’s some of us that stick together,” Harrell said. “Hopefully, we’ll get our town going back again.”
Chicago Taxes, Murphysboro Money

Most people don’t want to leave southern Illinois, local residents say. But year after year of high taxes, poor economic growth, and bad government put a strain on hometown loyalties.

The policies that changed Murphysboro and Cairo emanated from Chicago and its surrounding counties, local residents say. Chicago is the center of political power in Illinois.

More than 9 million people live in the Chicago metropolitan area, according to World Population Review. The rest of Illinois is home to about 3 million people. This population concentration means that although Chicago and its nearby counties make up only a small percentage of Illinois land, they often decide policy for the rest of the state.

Chicago and its surrounding counties all vote Democrat. But the rest of Illinois is solidly Republican.

Chicago’s population has consistently voted for high taxes and more government regulation. Today, Illinois has one of the United States’ highest average local and state tax burdens at 10 percent of income. In contrast, Missouri has an average tax burden of 7.8 percent of income.

Chicago is wealthy: The average citizen there earns $72,000 per year.

But in Murphysboro, the average citizen earns $37,996 per year. In Cairo, the average citizen earns only $12,081 per yea

“In this area, it’s a lot different from the larger cities,” Murphysboro resident and worship pastor Jermaine Bollinger said. “The representation of the necessities of the people around here aren’t really felt in Cook County [where Chicago is located].”

Illinois politicians don’t notice the problems of southern communities, Bollinger said. The southern part of the state doesn’t offer the same jobs or need the same politics.

Many southern Illinois residents say that most of their taxes go into Chicago without benefitting them. But they lack the political power to change the way Illinois laws impact their communities, Cottonaro said. The problem is bad enough that some residents wish for secession from the state.

“It’s the Democrats up in Chicago that run the whole state. Whatever they say goes,” Cottonaro said. “So we have nothing to say down here. Does it truly matter when how you vote is not going to make any difference?”

Illinois’s government also has a reputation for corruption. From 1970 to 2010, about 1,500 people have been convicted for political corruption in the state.

“We’re no longer shocked or surprised whenever bad government happens,” Murphysboro Mayor Will Stephens said. “People treat Illinois politics like a game instead of a true public service.”
Americans Against Prosperity

Despite the concerns of many southern Illinois residents over Chicago’s fiscal and cultural politics, some of the economic problems are homegrown.

Illinois local and state government has a habit of destroying its own best economic resources, many southern Illinois citizens say. Although some businesses have left rural Illinois because of global manufacturing trends, many left because local leaders made decisions that drove them away.

Bollinger said that the college town of Carbondale, Illinois, once had a thriving music scene with at least a dozen music venues. But after the city passed a restrictive noise ordinance in 2015, the music died. Today, only three active music venues remain in Carbondale.

“The nail in the coffin was the noise ordinance issues,” said Bollinger.

Cal-Crest Jacket Factory made clothes in Murphysboro, former supervisor Vicky Penrod said. Nearly 30 years ago, the factory asked the town for tax breaks so it could stay in Illinois, but the town refused, she said.

In 1985, the factory left for Mississippi, Jackson County Historical Society photo collector Nick Quigley said. Publicly, its owners cited competition from China as the driving reason.

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