Voter confidence in state lawmakers to fix Illinois’ fiscal problems is low and the willingness for taxpayers to leave the state is high. AARP of Illinois says that’s a recipe for disaster.
Illinois’ credit rating is near junk. The backlog of bills is more than $7 billion. The state’s unfunded public sector pension liability is at least $130 billion. Add in promised other post-employment benefits and that number skyrockets to over $200 billion.
After a two-and-a-half year budget impasse where required spending was on autopilot, growing the state’s deficits, lawmakers imposed a $5 billion income tax hike and the state still continued deficit spending. The budget passed this year is admittedly more than $1 billion out of balance and it included last year's $5 billion income tax increase.
Retired state employee and AARP volunteer Joe Woodward said a poll it commissioned of more than 1,200 registered Illinois voters shows significant disillusionment with state government with nearly three out of four voters questioned either not very confident or not confident at all the 2018 budget will reduce the state’s fiscal problems.
Sixty-five percent were either angry or extremely angry with the state’s poor fiscal situation. Nearly half said they’ve considered leaving and nearly three-quarters said someone they know is considering leaving the state.
“The top three reasons cited for leaving the state were high taxes, government mismanagement and the high cost of living, in that order,” Woodward said.
Nearly 60 percent of poll participants were between the age of 25 and 54.
AARP of Illinois Associate State Director Lori Hendren said that’s troubling. And while the poll wasn’t specific to the business climate, Hendren said the numbers show it’s poor.
“And if we don’t have faith and if businesses can’t have faith, we have an economic challenge that we’re in now and there’s going to be some strong leaders to get us forward from people in office and people who want to be in office,” Hendren said.
The AARP poll data show people are more concerned with fixing the state’s fiscal mess than they are for education, health care, public safety, and illegal drugs and crime.
Taxes and spending were also part of the survey. The vast majority of those polled oppose taxing retirement, increasing property taxes, raising the gas tax, or increasing the current income tax rate above 4.95 percent. However, when asked if the state should change the income tax structure to a graduated tax, nearly 60 percent supported the move, though no rates were clearly provided in the survey and 70 percent supported taxing income over $1 million or more.
As to where to cut? The poll indicates there’s 51 percent support for cutting higher education and state grants for local governments, and 48 percent support cutting infrastructure. But those polled were nearly evenly split when it comes to cuts to public safety, mental health and long-term care facilities.
Hendren said candidates for office with vague policies won’t cut it.
“If they want to get Illinois back on track, they need to start laying it out in detail,” Hendren said.
The group held three simultaneous news conferences across the state with their findings, urging clear policies from candidates for state office heading into the November election.