Poll: High taxes No. 1 reason Illinoisans consider leaving state

By Joe Barnas, Illinois Policy Institute | Oct 3, 2018

A new poll of registered Illinois voters confirms what many already know: High taxes are the leading reason Illinoisans consider moving out of the state.

The 2018 Illinois Issues Survey, conducted by the Center for State Policy and Leadership at the University of Illinois Springfield and NPR Illinois, found that 53 percent of respondents have considered leaving Illinois in the past year. Among them, 39 percent cited comparatively lower taxes in other states as their “primary reason.” Better job opportunities and a negative outlook on state government and politics followed as the primary reason for 15 percent and 14 percent of respondents, respectively.

According to the poll, middle-class households especially entertain the idea of leaving the state. Nearly two-thirds, or 64 percent, of respondents with a household income between $60,000 and $100,000 have considered moving out of Illinois. That figure moves to 59 percent for those with an income over $100,000.

Additionally, 74 percent of respondents consider Illinois to be on the “wrong track,” while only 14 percent said the state was moving in the right direction.

These results echo a 2016 poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. The 2016 poll found that, overall, 47 percent of respondents would prefer to move out of Illinois and high taxes were also the leading reason.

Sinking sand

Illinoisans pay some of the nation’s highest property taxes. Residents often see little increase in the quality of services despite routine property tax increases – primarily the result of growing pension costs. Moreover, Illinois is one of only three states in the nation where owning a home has become a worse investment since the Great Recession, a phenomenon driven entirely by income and property tax hikes.

As Illinoisans shudder at planting roots in the Land of Lincoln due to the state’s high tax burden, eliminating the state constitution’s flat-tax protection in favor of a progressive income tax, as some lawmakers have proposed, would only escalate fears of further tax hikes. Middle- and high-income households – those already most likely to consider leaving the state – would face much higher tax bills under a progressive income tax structure.

Solid ground

Instead of imposing further tax hikes, state lawmakers should instead work to ease residents’ fears by providing tax certainty and tax relief for Illinoisans.

The first key element to prevent further tax hikes at the state level is a spending cap tied to economic growth. The second is a constitutional amendment allowing for reforms to future, not-yet-earned pension benefits. If tax hikes are off the table as a solution to the pension crisis – as they should be, given Illinois’ outmigration problem – lawmakers’ only remaining options are to structurally reform pensions so that they are in line with what taxpayers can afford going forward – or allow pension spending to crowd out government services.

Illinoisans should not have to seek shelter in other states for a respite from their tax burden. And if state lawmakers move toward structural reform, they won’t have to.

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