Empower Wisconsin | Jan. 8, 2020
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — Illinois is bleeding people.
The Land of Lincoln’s population declined by more than any other state over the past decade, according to new data by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Think high taxes and liberal grow-government policies might have something to do with the exodus? It’s as likely as the Chicago Bears not making the playoffs this year.
Between 2010 and 2019, Illinois lost a total 159,700 residents, or about 1.2 percent of the state’s population. Only West Virginia posted a higher percentage loss over the period.
Illinois’ population decreased by an estimated 51,250 people — the size of the city of La Crosse — in 2019 alone.
To be sure, the exodus is the result of a lot of factors, what some economists have described as a “perfect storm” of conditions — from declining birth rates to closed factories and violent city streets. But Illinois’ well-earned reputation as a high-tax state and escalating housing costs have forced thousands of Illinoisans to seek greener personal economic pastures.
While neighbors in Wisconsin and Indiana have their financial houses in order, Illinois taxpayers are buried under $130 billion-plus in unfunded pension liability and chronic multi-billion-dollar state budget deficits. That has everything to do with the policies of the state’s controlling tax-and-spend liberals.
A report issued late last year shows the state’s budget deficit will hit $3.2 billion and its stack of unpaid bills is expected to rise to north of $19 billion by 2025 on its present course.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker believes the state’s budget woes can be fixed by a $3.4 billion progressive tax hike, a plan voters will ultimately decide later this year. But a new report by Illinois Policy finds the state’s higher earners are leaving the state, taking their taxable billions with them.
“For tax year 2019, that amounted to a net loss of up to $5.6 billion in adjusted gross income to other states, with each person leaving earning on average $18,000 more per tax return than those who moved to Illinois,” Illinois Policy’s Bryce Hill wrote.
Hill notes Pritzker’s tax plan would jack up taxes on the Illinoisans most likely to leave on net, meaning more middle-income earners would have to pick up the tab.
Many of those exiting Illinois are heading north to Wisconsin.
A report in June by the Badger Institute found on net, Wisconsin gained 116,000 residents between 2006 and 2017 — an average of nearly 40 residents a day.
“As residents and businesses flee the fiscal basket case that is Illinois, the Badger State has become an increasingly attractive destination due to advantages in the labor market, economic growth and business climate,” the report notes.
Booming business on Wisconsin’s southeast border with Illinois, with massive economic development projects like Amazon and Foxconn, is only hastening the exodus.
While Wisconsin conservative lawmakers have cut taxes by a more than $8.5 billion over the past nine years, Illinois, led by its liberals, proposed more than $4.6 billion in tax hikes and fee increases in the last budget alone.
Fiscal conservatives on both sides of the state line say there is an important lesson to be learned. If Wisconsin fails to cut into its still relatively high tax rates and doesn’t check government growth and regulation, it could see population losses ahead.