Illinois’ downward spiral began several decades ago. Now, it deepens.
You know about the 32 percent personal income tax hike that legislators just imposed.
And you know that even the extra $5 billion snaked out of taxpayers’ pockets won’t stop Illinois’ spiral. Nothing in this budget will stanch the flow of jobs and people to other states. So now what?
Politicians who’ve catastrophically mismanaged Illinois finances will spend the rest of their careers trying to cover their tracks and deny the obvious: They’ve set up Illinois to fail. Raising taxes without major, offsetting reforms piles on years of other decisions that sabotage economic growth. Decisions now driving employers and other citizens to shrewder states.
It’s as if legislators tried to make this state even less competitive. Illinois already ranked a mediocre 23rd nationally in business tax climate. With this tax hike, Illinois falls to 28th, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation tells us. The attractiveness of the state’s corporate tax flops from 26th to 37th. Wrong direction, folks.
As Illinois makes itself less appealing to employers and other taxpayers, all of us feel the blowback. Home prices fall. Debt and pension costs crimp spending on services. Employers flee to lower-tax states, or never consider locating in Illinois. Jobs grow scarcer. Schools lose students as families depart.
People follow jobs and opportunity. That’s why Illinois has led the nation in population loss — three years straight. The exodus is a self-perpetuating crisis. As people leave, more think about leaving; now they have a family member, a friend, a colleague who reports that Colorado or Texas or Oregon is great.
It’s tempting to shrug off the Illinois exodus as just a relative handful of people fleeing a big state. Look at metropolitan Chicago. With all that construction, the packed expressways, the mobbed sidewalks — it’s easy to not notice the spiral. But here and across vast reaches downstate, neighborhoods empty quietly. Moving trucks come and go. Houses linger on the market.
The state loses clout, politically and financially, with every U-Haul that crosses the state line. Federal dollars and clout in Congress flow to places attracting people and jobs. Communities build schools and roads with the expectation there will be more citizens to use them, more taxpayers to offset the investment. But as people leave …
Shrinking state resources force colleges to cut programs, prompting students to go elsewhere. That pernicious trend threatens the state’s economic health; students who earn diplomas far away often stay there to work, raise families, create businesses.
Decade after decade, the many lawmakers who undercut Illinois have rarely suffered consequences. Voters send them back to Springfield to repeat their failures. To keep bleeding the state of jobs and opportunity.
That’s not just about taxes. We don’t reflexively oppose a hike if it accompanies long overdue reforms that would kindle prosperity. That means addressing the state’s massive pension funding liability. Modernizing its expensive workers’ compensation laws. Pruning its wild overgrowth of local governments and school districts. Fixing its property tax system. In short, streamlining Illinois to reduce taxpayers’ burdens and debts.
Illinois’ last big tax hike, the fiasco of 1/11/11 that Democrats designed to start rolling back in 2014, brought a $31 billion windfall to Illinois. But without spending restraints, it bought precious little improvement to state finances. The spiral intensified. And here taxpayers are, many billions deeper in debt, absorbing a big tax hike retroactive to July 1.
Yet Democrats who passed the 1/11/11 tax hike had the last laugh: In 2012 voters didn’t punish legislators who report to House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton.
During their combined 86 years in Springfield, Madigan and Cullerton advanced many of the terrible bills — to spend, borrow, tax and reward their cronies — that put taxpayers in this fix. A week ago we urged Madigan and Cullerton to follow the example of Republican Christine Radogno and quit leadership in order to spare Illinois more of their drama. Speaker Madigan, President Cullerton, if you were busy, read that editorial at chicagotribune.com/quit.
Legislators who imposed this year’s increase despite Gov. Bruce Rauner’s opposition hope that by next year’s elections you’ll once again forget. Forget that they voted to raise your taxes before they passed major reforms. Forget how they set this state to shrivel as its neighbors thrive. Forget how they sabotaged Illinois.