To the Editor:
Illinois is in extreme crisis. Our state is at risk of a financial and economic death spiral. But we don’t need Moody’s Investors Service or financial analysts to tell us this – just look around.
People are leaving Illinois because they can’t find jobs and they can’t afford to live here.
Just a few weeks ago, news outlets reported this frightening statistic from the U.S. Census Bureau: Illinois lost 114,144 people on net to other states in the last year. The exodus from Illinois is so extreme it’s almost equivalent to the entire city of Springfield emptying out, becoming a ghost town, in a year’s time.
Picture it: every home vacant, every business closed. Every school shuttered, every street void of people, cars and life.
This is not a new phenomenon; Illinois has been bleeding residents for years. Since 2000, Illinois has lost more than 1 million residents on net to other states. Yet politicians have looked the other way – sometimes denying the crisis. And at other times punishing those who stay in Illinois with higher taxes and unbalanced budgets, and putting taxpayers on the hook for pension benefits we will never be able to pay.
Illinois has been a place that works for the rich and politically connected, the insiders, the special interests and government unions. But it’s been hell on regular folks who wake up, go to work and just try to make a life for themselves and their families.
In his two years in office, Gov. Bruce Rauner has been able to make significant progress in many areas, namely criminal justice reform and in streamlining facets of state government. He has drawn the line on tax increases that are not accompanied by reform. He has negotiated reasonable contracts with 20 unions that do business with state government. But he cannot transform decades of dysfunction in two years, and he cannot do it alone.
It’s time for every member of the General Assembly to join the people’s call for reform. This is no time for pretending or political posturing. This is no time to just "do something" because the pressure is intense. This is no time for half measures that won’t work. The legislature and previous governors have done that for far too long.
And it is not the time for more of the policies that got Illinois into this abyss in the first place. Tax hike cannot solve Illinois’ problems unless lawmakers structurally reform state spending. Raising taxes without structural spending reforms is a failed strategy. Politicians have not earned the right to raise the people’s taxes. The only way to even make a case for that is to pass legislation that actually solves the problems. Ineffective action that makes lawmakers feel good but continue to inflict pain on people they affect is not a choice Illinois can make.
Next week, Illinois Policy Institute will release a budget plan for Illinois that is balanced, constitutional and does not raise taxes. Perhaps most importantly, this plan calls for necessary and very specific reforms that will put Illinois on a better economic trajectory.
It is time for courage. It is time for bold solutions. It is time to put the people first, not the special interests, not the privileged, not the powerful.
John Tillman, CEO
Illinois Policy Institute