The Illinois Tax Burden

***Guest Column***

Is Illinois growing or shrinking? Are more people coming into the state, or are more people leaving the state? At present, the numbers don’t look good for Illinois. The 2015 census estimate for Illinois calculates that the state saw a 0.2% population growth over the past five years. That growth is more than seven times slower than Wisconsin’s, ten times slower than Indiana’s, and twelve times slower than Iowa’s population growth over the same period. 


In 2014, Illinois lost a net population of nearly 95,000 people in net state to state migration. That’s like losing all of Freeport and half of Rockford in one year. This is a crisis that only serves to worsen the budget situation. Many of those who leave the state are those with the skills that Illinois needs to get back on track. Those who are leaving take with them a portion of the state’s GDP that could have been used to create jobs and, yes, provide more tax revenue. But in 2015, as reported by Reboot Illinois, the state’s economy actually shrank.

We know we have people leaving our state en masse, but is there anything we are doing about it? Well, yes… we are trying to raise taxes. As if we haven’t learned our lesson, we continually oppress those who create wealth for our state. There are those who say we have a revenue problem in Illinois. Those people would be technically correct. We have a revenue problem because those who were paying Illinois’ high overall tax burden are fleeing to states with a less oppressive tax burden. Therefore, we have less overall revenue. But how is raising taxes on those who haven’t evacuated yet going to increase revenue for Illinois?

Some also say that Illinois has a relatively low flat tax compared to surrounding states. While technically true, that is only part of the overall tax burden equation. When combining the state income tax with the highest property taxes in the country along with one of the highest corporate tax rates in the country, you see a completely different story.

WalletHub conducted a comprehensive analysis of all 50 states and the District of Columbia for 2016. Not surprisingly, the study found that Illinois ranked worst (51st) in overall tax burden. Illinois is officially the most over-taxed state in the union. So unless part of the solution is to have the Illinois National Guard set up roadblocks at the border to stop anyone from leaving the state, raising taxes will only see more residents fleeing Illinois.

I say all this not to alarm you, but to give you an idea as to why I am so adamantly opposed to raising taxes in Illinois. Come November, after the elections are over, Speaker Madigan will have one priority for the “Lame-duck” session – raising taxes. As your Representative I will do everything within my power to keep that from happening, but it is up to the rest of Illinois to demand that their elected representatives and senators not drive away anymore Illinois residents.

One of my biggest pet peeves is when someone complains about a problem but has no ideas as to a solution. My solution is simple, really – firstly, don’t chase taxpayers away by raising taxes. Secondly, we absolutely need to address our state’s spending problem. If we return to literally following the state constitution, we will not spend our way into oblivion. Every potential budget must meet the criteria of spending only as much revenue as the state is projected to take in.

Prospective businesses don’t want to move to the most fiscally mismanaged state in the country; business leaders want to move to a place where they know their business will be safe. They need to know that we will no longer punish those who are successful. If this is the case, we will have economic growth – and even net positive migration – once again. Cutting spending will be difficult, because we must learn to use the rule of thumb, “Is this budget line item necessary to achieve economic growth in Illinois.”

Illinois has too much potential to be driven into the ground. Chicago is the Midwest’s economic center, and though I don’t agree with the city’s politics, I recognize the city’s contribution to our state’s economy. Illinois is the largest rail hub in the country, and our farmers produce the best crops and livestock in the world. We are connected to the St. Lawrence Seaway via the Great Lakes and the Gulf of Mexico through the Mississippi River. Rockford is increasingly growing as an aviation hub, and O’Hare is in the running every year to be the busiest airport in the country. We are the home of John Deere, Boeing, Caterpillar, and even Jimmy John’s. Illinois has all the tools available to be one of the most successful states in the country.

In closing, I’ll say this: please don’t mistake my candor for partisan rhetoric. I care too deeply about this region and this state to stand idly by as our state is mismanaged into disrepair. As many of you know, I am a small business owner, so I know how many other business owners and taxpayers in general feel about our state’s current situation. Some would have you believe that none of these problems existed until our new Governor took office; this is simply not true. The fact is, career politicians have kicked the can down the road for far too long. We are past the point where we can pass any more debt onto future generations. Now is the time to take responsibility for our future and our children’s future. Now is the time to take action.

Benjamin Franklin once said “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Taxes and death are certain, but in Illinois we must remember not to tax our state into death.

As always, you can reach me or Sally at 815/232-0774 or e-mail us at repstewart@gmail.com. You can also visit my website at www.repbrianstewart.com or on Facebook.