Just over a year ago, Governor Pat Quinn stood before the General Assembly to deliver his 2012 State of the State address. He spoke of the need to get Illinoisans working and growing, proclaiming: “We’re back on course & Illinois is moving forward.” Unfortunately for the families of Illinois, their personal finances, much like the State’s, have not improved and all face a dismal future under the current policies.
Illinois families had more money taken out of their paychecks for state taxes this past year than at any other point in Illinois history thanks to the 67% income tax hike pushed by Gov. Quinn in 2011. To justify the tax hike, Senate President Cullerton said, “We’ll pay all of our backlogged bills in the first months of 2011, and stay current going forward.” Despite these record revenues, Illinois still has over $9.4 billion in unpaid bills, slightly more than the $9.2 billion it had when Gov. Quinn delivered his last State of the State address.
The tax hike on personal and corporate income make Illinois a less attractive place to locate or grow a business, making it more and more difficult to get Illinoisans back to work. Last year, Governor Quinn said, “We’ve invested in our state, making it a better place to do business.” But since his last speech, Illinois’ unemployment rate has gone from .8% higher than the national average to .9% higher. In addition to a high state unemployment rate of 8.7%, a recent report by the Department of Labor showed in 2012 Illinois lost more union jobs than any state in the nation.
As his closing line to the 2012 State of the State address, Governor Quinn told the members of the General Assembly: “I look forward to working with you in the coming year to make the people of Illinois even prouder of our state.” While I’m sure that was a heart-felt sentiment, his actions (or inactions), and those of the General Assembly, did quite the opposite. Illinois’ debt was downgraded two more times in 2012 for a total of eleven bond downgrades while Quinn has been in office, giving Illinois the lowest bond rating of any state in the nation. While Quinn made addressing the ballooning unfunded pension liability a priority, neither he nor the leaders of the General Assembly were capable of addressing the most pressing fiscal calamity facing Illinois. Instead of taking definitive action in the Spring session, or in the August special session, or in the Lame Duck session, Illinois’ leaders have allowed the nation’s worst-funded pension systems to worsen and damage the economic well-being of the state.
Perhaps Governor Quinn should try a new approach- one that seeks to restore Illinois as the economic powerhouse of the Midwest. Our neighbors in Indiana and Wisconsin are working to spur economic growth by cutting taxes and regulations, while curbing the out-sized influence of labor unions. Illinois can regain its competitive edge by repealing the income tax hike, while setting its fiscal house in order with dramatic pension reform and real spending limits. These steps could actually get Illinois growing. Without a change in policies by our leaders in Springfield, the state of the state will continue to be more debt, higher taxes and less opportunity.
David W. From is the Illinois State Director of Americans for Prosperity, a national free-market advocacy group.