Kiss-off: Too many Illinoisans breaking up with the state

Kiss-off: Too many Illinoisans breaking up with the state

Every relationship comes with its sacrifices. But for an alarming number of Illinoisans, parting ways with Illinois is how they choose to get on with their lives.

For too long, Illinois has given its residents the same lousy assortment of Valentine’s Day gifts: sluggish jobs growth, self-destructive spending habits and onerous taxation.

In turn, Illinoisans are severing their relationship with the state.

December marked the state’s fifth straight year of population loss. Illinois’ population shrank by more than 157,000 residents on net since 2014, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, a trend driven by more Illinoisans moving out than in. In 2018 alone, Illinois lost roughly 313 residents a day to other states.

But it isn’t just people. As a consequence of Illinois’ population exodus between tax years 2010 and 2015, the state lost $3.4 billion in adjusted gross income just to its neighboring states, according to IRS data.

Four consecutive years of population decline caused Pennsylvania to overtake Illinois as the nation’s fifth-most populous state.

That ought to rouse urgency for reform among state lawmakers. But if Springfield’s governing habits over the past year are any indication, they have yet to take a hint.

First, lawmakers must understand the policy failures driving residents into the arms of Illinois’ neighbors. Primarily, according to Illinoisans themselves, the answer is simple: taxes.

For years, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute has polled Illinoisans looking to leave the state. Consistently, the Institute has found high taxes is the No. 1 reason residents want to leave.

Prairie State residents are especially strained by the state’s punishing property taxes. Illinois homeowners shoulder the second-highest property tax burden in the country. From 2008 to 2015, families watched property taxes grow six times faster than their incomes. That didn’t stop lawmakers from pushing through the largest income tax hike in state history in July 2017.

A “temporary” income tax hike passed in 2011 cost the state economy $55.8 billion in real GDP. Unfortunately, the 2017 tax hike will only inflict further pain on Illinois, likely tempting more residents to pack their bags in the absence of serious reform.

Footing the bill for lawmakers’ spending excesses has proven too tall an order for Illinois taxpayers. No household that spends beyond its means can remain above water for long – a fundamental budgeting lesson that state lawmakers should take to heart.

A smart spending cap that ties growth in state spending to growth in the state’s economy, coupled with a true balanced budget amendment, would restore fiscal discipline and allow the state to get its finances in order. Further, an amendment to the Illinois Constitution that allows the state to control the unsustainable growth in pension costs for government workers is imperative to reduce Illinoisans’ property tax bills.

Provided lawmakers are willing to adopt commonsense reforms, 2019 could be the year Springfield renews its vows to taxpayers and fosters a chance of growing old together.

Want more? Get stories like this delivered straight to your inbox.

Thank you, we'll keep you informed!