Hey, Speaker Madigan: Illinois’ No. 1 budget problem is taxpayers fleeing the state

Hey, Speaker Madigan: Illinois’ No. 1 budget problem is taxpayers fleeing the state

If Illinois had simply broken even on domestic migration, there likely wouldn’t be much of a budget problem.

Illinois House Speaker Mike Madigan has spent recent weeks promoting half-truths about the problems facing the state. Given Madigan’s 44 years in the General Assembly and 32 years as the speaker of the House, his explanations conveniently skirt the fact that much of the blame for Illinois’ long-term problems, such as its perennial budget crises, lies squarely with him.

For example, Madigan has consistently repeated that the No. 1 problem facing Illinois state government is the budget deficit. This description acknowledges a problem without investigating its true causes.

Madigan myth No. 1: The biggest problem facing state government is the budget deficit.

Reality: The biggest problem facing state government is taxpayers voting with their feet against the state’s current trajectory. Illinois is facing all-time record levels of out-migration.

Year after year Illinois continues to lose residents to other states, including net losses to all states that border Illinois. Addressing this massive no-confidence vote should be the first priority for the Illinois General Assembly. The reality is that Illinois and many of its local governments fumble along from one budget crisis to the next because taxpayers are fleeing the state and taking their tax dollars with them. And they’re leaving because Illinois is not the place to find a good manufacturing job or to grow a new company.

Just last year Illinois had a net loss of 95,000 residents to other states, the all-time worst for the Land of Lincoln. As a result, the majority of Illinois cities are now shrinking. Budgets can’t be balanced when taxpayers are moving out.


Illinoisans are leaving and not enough residents of other states are moving in to replace them. Illinois’ out-migration problem points to Madigan myth No. 2.

Madigan myth No. 2: The General Assembly should focus on fixing this year’s budget deficit through a blend of spending cuts and new tax revenues.

Reality: Illinois’ budgetary crisis would be much less severe if the state simply kept its own people and put its jobless residents back to work. The only long-term solution is to put in place policies that cultivate better economic growth, keep taxpayers in Illinois and encourage local business growth.

Put aside for a moment the fact that Illinois has a state pension crisis that is gobbling up more and more state tax dollars every year. Even with pensions eating up the budget, there would be billions of dollars in additional revenue to balance the budget today if Illinois hadn’t so severely lost its border battles with nearly every state.

Illinois’ massive out-migration under Madigan’s tenure has cost the state dearly. In the last two decades alone, Illinois has lost 1.4 million more people to other states than it has gained from those states, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This net exodus of Illinoisans has resulted in a crushing loss of $45.6 billion of annual adjusted gross income and $7.6 billion in annual state and local tax revenue, which would be divided about evenly between state and local coffers.


If Illinois had simply broken even on domestic migration, there likely wouldn’t be much of a budget problem.

Another gusher of $1.3 billion in annual state and local tax revenue would be flowing in if Illinois had simply recovered from the Great Recession. Thirty-three out of 50 states have more people working today than when the recession began. But not Illinois. There are currently 240,000 fewer Illinoisans working than there were before the recession, leaving Illinois years from recovery. If Illinois had put those workers back on the job at the state’s average wage, Illinois would have $11.7 billion in added annual income and $1.3 billion in added annual tax revenues.


Madigan myth No. 3: Gov. Bruce Rauner’s proposals would hurt the middle class, which is why Madigan opposes Rauner’s policies.

Reality: Rauner’s political reforms are wildly popular with Illinois’ middle class, and his economic reforms would foster the job creation desperately needed by the middle class.

Rauner’s top two proposals, which Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton haven’t touched with a 10-foot pole, are constitutional amendments to impose term limits on politicians and to draw fair maps for legislative districts. These proposals are wildly popular among average Illinoisans, with 79 percent supporting term limits. Middle-class taxpayers realize they are the losers when Springfield politicians make a career out of insider dealing and distributing favors.

Furthermore, Illinois’ middle class is shrinking, in large part because there are not good jobs available in Illinois. According to a recent study by Pew Charitable Trusts, Illinois has the second-smallest middle class in the Midwest, barely better than Ohio.


Madigan myth No. 4: Using the budget process to address necessary reforms is “operating in the extreme.”

Reality: Illinois’ current governance is operating at an extreme level of failure, which can only be fixed through reforms like those Rauner proposes.

Illinois’ political leadership has given the state the following:

Rauner has proposed the General Assembly vote for term limits, fair maps for elections, a property-tax cap, workers’ compensation reform and reform of the state’s lawsuit climate. Average, middle-class Illinoisans can choose which is the extreme: Rauner’s proposal for reform, or Madigan’s proposal to stay the course.

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