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Illinois Saw Biggest Population Dip In The Nation; Critics Blame Budget Stalemate

By Stephen Gossett in News on Dec 21, 2016 5:14PM

Flickr / Photo: Jessica Spengler

Census numbers released on Tuesday confirmed what surveys and studies have long pointed toward: people are fleeing Illinois more than any other state. The Land of Shrinkin’, as the Sun-Times brilliantly put it, lost 37,508 people this year, according to the data.

The question everyone is asking—and politicizing—is: Why?

According to a Tribune survey last year, common cited reasons for flight were “high taxes, the state budget stalemate, crime, the unemployment rate and the weather.” The budget stalemate, in particular, actually seems to come up most often and might be the most persuasive answer. (We sadly can’t do much about the weather.)

The dip started in 2014 and exacerbated in 2015, when Bruce Rauner became governor and the budget impasse intensified.

“Not having a budget in place exacerbates a lot of uncertainty for employers,” Jake Lewis, Campaign Director of Illinois Working Together, told Chicagoist. “If you don’t know what your tax burden looks like, what regulatory changes are in store, you’re more hesitant to hire. It fuels economic uncertainty.”

Budget-related cuts to public universities and social-service cuts could play a key factor, as well. “It hurts employees who work and generate billions in economic activity—and of course the people who rely on such services,” Lewis added.

While cautioning against oversimplification, Frank Manzo, Policy Director of Illinois Economic Policy Institute, is also quick to note the detrimental impact of the budget stalemate.

“We recommend a mixture tax increases at the top and moderate spending cuts in order to balance the budget,” Manzo said. “Our political leaders need to put people over politics. If employers know what to expect in Illinois, businesses will be willing to come here and we can hire workers.”

Both Manzo and Lewis cit Minnesota as a Midwestern state that, despite divided government, has witnessed both economic and, not coincidentally, they argue, population growth. “They recently raised minimum wage and raised taxes on rich,” Manzo noted.

The state's stopgap budget expires on Dec. 31.