Illinois is a lot like the guy who spent lavishly and never worried about how he'd pay the bills. Then when times got tough, he started collecting aluminum cans along the roadway for the recycling money.
Illinois' more lucrative version of cans is signs along the interstates. The Illinois Department of Transportation found a law from the 1970s that no one in the metro-east can ever remember being enforced, and now is hitting up businesses for the one-time fee of $50 to $200 per sign.
What rankles is not so much the dollar amount, or even IDOT's pretense that it has always been serious about tracking signs. It's what one business owner called "death by a thousand cuts" -- Illinois' propensity to have so many costly rules and requirements that people regret doing business here. The problem is not just state charges but local ones like water line tap-in fees that owners say are tens of thousands of dollars higher than in neighboring Missouri.
It's one more reason that Illinois is considered such a bad place to do business. We interviewed just a handful of business owners in St. Clair County about the sign requirement, and two of them said that will never open another location in Illinois. Fewer businesses means a smaller tax base and not as many jobs created.
Businesses tied to Illinois have no choice but to pay. But Illinois officials need to worry about those that could operate anywhere. With enough money grabs like this one, they may just leave.