Illinoisans Are Becoming More Realistic About Dealing with the Budget Crisis

Although Illinois has become the quintessential example of a state with a broken budget process, a recent poll by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute provides evidence suggesting that there may be some positive change occurring among Illinois voters.

Since 2008, the Simon Institute has conducted an annual survey of 1,000 voters in Illinois in order to examine how the general public thinks the state should deal with its budget problems. Specifically, the Simon institute has asked Illinois voters if they think the state’s budget deficit should be handled by: 1) bringing in more revenue, 2) cutting waste and inefficiency in government, or 3) a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases.

A majority of Illinoisans (57.7%) still believe that cutting waste and inefficiency will solve the state’s budget problems.  Unfortunately, this is a non-serious way to cut – targeting inefficacy and waste is easy since there are no real constituencies for either. This is why it’s important to dig deeper and ask people about specific cuts.

Proposals for program cuts in the Institute’s poll include, among others, cutting spending on education, public safety, programs for poor people, and pension benefits for state workers. Not surprisingly, a majority of Illinoisans oppose cuts to each of these programs.

However, there has been a substantial increase in the number of people that favor cuts in Illinois’s pension system. In 2008, 24.1 percent of voters favored cutting spending on pension benefits for state workers. This number has increased by more than 20 percentage points over the past three years, to 45.5 percent.

There has also been a growing acceptance for various means of increasing revenues. This year’s results show that:

 in 2011, for the first time, majorities approve of two of the revenue-raising measures in the poll: expanding legalized gambling (56.8%) and expanding the sales tax to cover services as well as goods (50.1%).

This is good news. It suggests that Illinoisans are becoming more realistic about dealing with the state’s budget crisis. Specifically, it suggests that Illinoisans are beginning to embrace the principle of generality in taxation – broadening the base will allow the state to potentially lower its tax rates.  Additionally, a majority (74.1%) of Illinoisans oppose an increase in the state’s sales tax rate  – highlighting the fact that voters are not just in favor of more taxes, but a broader tax base.

Ultimately, the results from this year’s Simon Institute poll indicate that Illinoisans are not only beginning to understand the severity of their state’s budget crisis but are also starting to accept some pragmatic avenues of reform. Politicians and policy makers in Illinois must act on this opportunity and focus on passing structural reform.

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About Ben VanMetre

Ben VanMetre is an MA Fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Before joining Mercatus, Ben earned his Bachelor of Arts degree from Beloit College where he double majored in Economics and Management and Psychology. His research interests include international and state-based development issues, entrepreneurship, institutional arrangements, and economic freedom. His work has appeared in Forbes, Economic Affairs, the Cato Journal, the Journal of Business and Economic Perspectives, the Journal of the James Madison Institute, the Free Market Foundation, and the second volume of the Wealth and Wellbeing of Nations.