Illinois collects more in taxes per person than every neighboring state, according to new research from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.
But Illinois Senate President John Cullerton, D-Chicago, thinks otherwise. “Our taxes are dramatically lower than all the states around us,” Cullerton said on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight on Sept. 28.
Cullerton couldn’t be more wrong. Illinois collects $3,008 in state-tax revenue per Illinoisan, nearly $200 more per person than the highest-taxing neighboring state, Wisconsin. Only 13 other states in the country take in more tax revenue per person than Illinois.
Moreover, what these numbers do not show is the massive local-tax burden that Illinoisans also must shoulder. Illinois residents pay the second-highest effective property-tax rates in the nation, according to the Tax Foundation. Illinois’ local governments take in more property-tax revenue per person than those of any neighboring state, and more than governments in all but nine states in the country.
Springfield’s political elite, such as Cullerton and House Speaker Mike Madigan, apparently believe that Illinois doesn’t have a spending problem, but rather that Illinois residents simply aren’t taxed enough.
But the fact is that state government has been on an unsustainable spending spree for decades.
Growth in state spending outpaced personal-income growth in Illinois by a 63-point margin from 1992 to 2013.
From 1969 to 2012, Illinois’ state and local tax collections grew at close to double the rate of income growth for most Illinoisans. Per-capita income for Illinoisans in metropolitan areas grew by 66 percent, while state and local tax collection per capita grew by 121 percent.
The sky-high property taxes that Illinoisans pay? Those go to fund nearly 7,000 units of local government – the most numerous of any state in the U.S. That’s 2,129 more government agencies than Pennsylvania, the state with the next-highest tally. And with all those units of local government come government-worker pension funds; Illinois has more than any state in the U.S. As of 2012, Illinois contained 43 percent of the nation’s government-worker pension funds.
Illinois residents have been voting with their feet against this ever-higher tax burden and the dismal jobs climate that comes with it by moving to states with better economic opportunities, such as Texas and Florida.
Regardless of whether Illinois’ career politicians accept the facts, righting Illinois’ fiscal ship with pro-growth reforms, including those outlined in Gov. Bruce Rauner’s Turnaround Agenda, is the only sustainable way to grow Illinois’ tax base. Accelerating the pace of revenue growth with tax increases alone – rather than addressing the problems that beset the state’s economy – is emblematic of the failed status quo that has steered the Land of Lincoln so far off course.
Austin Berg is a writer for the Illinois Policy Institute.