State Senator Bob Onder (R-2) is really, really worried that Missouri will go the way of Illinois, which is not experiencing good fiscal times. Onder, under the guise of “religious freedom,” is proposing a Constitutional amendment that would permit folks who don’t like LGBT folks to discriminate against them in the business sphere. Faced with the rather clear evidence provided by Indiana and Georgia, states that have backed away from faux religious freedom-to-discriminate legislation in the face of potential economic blowback, as well as the brewing economic disaster in North Carolina which just passed one of these ugly laws, Onder seems to be more than a little desperate to defend his earlier statement that no one has proved to him that such a bill could hurt the Missouri economy. How to do that? Find a state that has an anti-discrimination culture that is reflected in legislation that protects LGBT individuals and that, like Illinois, is also having a rough time economically.
Onder may be overusing the example of Illinois’ financial status though. It seems to be his all-purpose scapegoat. Earlier he blamed Illinois’ financial problems on the fact that it extended Medicaid according to the provisions of Obamacare. One cannot be faulted for wondering just what it is it that is driving Illinois so close to the edge? Addressing bigotry or providing healthcare for the working poor?
Of course, it’s always possible that Illinois’ problems have an entirely different source. Indeed, Illinois Democratic State Senator Heather Steans noted in response to Onder’s claims that, “if Illinois’ tax rates were as high as Missouri’s, we wouldn’t be struggling with the budget problems we have today.”
There’s lots of evidence to support Steans’ statement. After Republican Governor Bruce Rauner came into office in Illinois he rolled back the temporary tax increases implemented by former Governor Quinn – although financial experts agreed that, no matter how severely the budget was cut, if Illinois was to emerge from its financial crisis, the higher tax rates should be extended. As a consequence of this action, combined with the open war between he hide-bound Republican Rauner and the Democratic legislature, the picture for Illinois is truly bleak.
If you want more evidence for Steans’ contention, I have one word for you: Kansas. Kansas enacted great big ol’ tax cuts for business and the wealthy and the place is a disaster area, huge deficits, degraded public services and, get this, it’s losing jobs. And none of the blame can be attributed to LGBT friendly laws or Medicaid extension. Of course, as a Missouri Republican who has touted tax cuts as the yellow brick road leading to unimaginable trickle-down rivers of wealth, I don’t imagine Onder will be any more interested in exploring the Kansas example than he is in acknowledging the impact of the anti-LGBT legislation in Indiana, Georgia or North Carolina.
Better yet, look at the roster of prospering cities with a strong anti-discrimination culture. As one commentator notes, it “is no coincidence. San Francisco and Austin are arguably the most gay-friendly cities in the country, and they check in at #1 and #2 respectively on the Milken Institute’s 2014 List of Best-Performing Cities.” Of course, as Steans response to Onder implies, there are probably lots of other factors that affect prosperity – certainly the oil industry might be key to the relative prosperity in Texas and Oklahoma, rather than the bigoted LGBT policies that Onder cites.
But one thing is sure. Lots of businesses don’t want to be associated with states that enshrine discrimination in their laws. The evidence is undeniable that there is a growing economic backlash against freedom-to-discriminate bills, no matter how pandering politicians attempt to disguise them under the high-minded rubric of ensuring “freedom of religion.” We all know nobody’s religious freedom is under threat. I know that the GOP has come to stand for retrograde ideological purity over any practical consideration, including fiscal responsibility, but is Onder really ready to take the blame for what his follow-the-ugly-leader legislation could cost the state?