American Dream

Retiring in Texas: Why a Former Illinois State Senator Became a Proud Texan

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Roger Keats’s Illinois roots run deep. After being born in Ohio “by accident,” he spent much of the next 60 years in the Prairie State. In 2011, shortly after retiring, Roger packed up and migrated south. He even published a goodbye letter to fellow Illinoisans. Today, he is a proud Texan.

Achieving the American Dream

Growing up in Chicagoland influenced Roger immensely. From ages two to eight, he lived with his family in the city’s Hyde Park neighborhood, just a few blocks from President Obama’s future home. Enjoying White Sox games from a company skybox is still a fond memory. During his high school years, Roger’s family moved to the northern suburb of Evanston, where Roger achieved All-American status as a competitive swimmer.

Following graduate school and after serving in the U.S. Army, Roger worked on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. After a few years, he decided to return home to start his business career—which took off. At just 31 years old, Roger organized a group of investors to purchase a small bank on the south side of Chicago, and as part of the management team, he received a slice of the bank’s equity. Roger later sold his bank stock, using the proceeds to found Gallatin National, a civil engineering and construction firm, and to purchase a beautiful home in Glencoe. In addition, Roger’s entrepreneurial acumen created jobs in his hometown.

While establishing these businesses, Roger became one of the youngest members of the Illinois legislature, and he served there for 16 years. When Roger was a state senator, from 1979 to 1993, the state’s budgets were balanced annually—a feat that hasn’t yet occurred in this century. “Illinois was a competitive state, not a laughingstock,” says Roger. What happened? Roger attests that Illinois was a great place in which to live and grow up, but the business and political climate rapidly deteriorated after the late ’90s.

Moving Away from Government Corruption

“I was paying taxes to subsidize crooks—hundreds of Cook County officials and aldermen have gone to prison. I’d had it,” says Roger. Recounting an example of the rampant corruption, Roger states that all 18 city inspectors were taking bribes, 15 of whom served prison time. “This was the last straw.”

So, in 2011, Roger and his wife sold their house, residential mortgage crises notwithstanding. After considering Nashville, they decided that Austin’s Hill Country was the right fit. Roger says, “It’s our kind of place. For just 40 percent of what our Wilmette house sold for, we bought a place on two acres with a pool and giant oak trees. Property taxes are less than a third of what we paid in Illinois. Even with the lower property taxes, the high school here, Dripping Springs, ranks almost even with Wilmette’s New Trier High School.” He adds, “The cost of living here is unbelievably lower. Even Austin is cheap compared to Chicago.” As a bonus to paying no state income tax on his retirement, Roger notes that the Texas sales tax is just two thirds that of the sales tax in Illinois.

By living in a state with no income tax, Roger doesn’t have to live off his savings. “We could even buy rental properties here,” he says. “We’ve been able to expand our investments rather than draw them down.”

Roger advises those retiring to “start looking around, vote with your feet and your wallet. Look at costs, taxes, and a good jobs climate. Don’t just look at the weather.”