Illinois voters are deeply divided over how to handle the state’s budget impasse. Given three options for addressing the deficit, 45 percent favor cutting waste and inefficiency as the only way to handle the problem, while 11 percent favor a tax increase. However, 35 percent agreed with the statement that the state budget crisis will require both budget cuts and an increase in revenue. When the 35 percent who chose this option are added to the 11 percent who say they favor a tax increase, the result is 46 percent total who favor both raising taxes and cutting spending while 45 percent believe that cutting waste and inefficiency is sufficient.
This is one of the major findings of a recent statewide poll of registered voters taken March 4th-11th sponsored by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points. Sixty percent of the interviews were via cell phones.
The increasing revenue option was favored by 13 percent in both Chicago and suburban Cook and the five Collar Counties while only 7 percent of downstate voters favored it. Forty three percent of Chicago voters thought a combination of both increased revenue and service cuts would be required, compared with 32 percent of suburban voters and 33 percent of downstate respondents who chose this option. Fifty percent of downstate voters chose the “cut waste and inefficiency” option, followed by 47 percent of suburban voters and only 34 percent of Chicago voters who chose this answer.
In terms of party identification, 18 percent of Democrats said increased revenue was the key; 7 percent of independents and 4 percent of Republicans chose this solution. In contrast, 60 percent of Republicans thought eliminating waste and inefficiency was the answer, while 45 percent of independents and 34 percent of Democrats took this choice. The combination of both increased revenue and cuts in services was the solution to the impasse according to 38 percent of Democrats, 39 percent of independents, and 29 percent of Republicans.
“The voters of Illinois are apparently as conflicted and divided over what to do about the budget impasse as their legislators and the governor are”, said John Jackson, one of the designers of the poll.
“When the voters are deeply divided, particularly in policy areas where the divisions are close, the office holders are given more leeway to fashion workable solutions to problems like the budget impasse, and then explain them and sell them to the voters, which is an obligation of leadership in a representative democracy,” Jackson continued.
Despite the growing number of Illinoisans who have come to the conclusion that the state’s budget crisis can only be managed by a blend of tax increases and program cuts, that forces legislators to vote for a pair of negatives; voting for tax increases while voting to cut programs people want and need.
The voters were asked about specific areas where there could be budget cuts in state service in areas ranging across education, welfare and a wide range of other state government services such as the state police, prisons, and parks and environmental regulation. Not a single governmental function was targeted by a majority of the voters as places they would support cuts in the agencies’ budgets.
In the case of K-12 education, fully 82 percent of the respondents were opposed to cutting budgets, and only 15 percent supported. The only function which came close to majority support for cuts was pension systems for public workers where 45 percent favored cuts and 49 percent opposed.
In “programs for poor people,” only 21 percent favored cuts, while 72 percent opposed cuts in those areas. Possible cuts to the state’s universities were opposed by 67 percent and supported by only 30 percent—both providing somewhat unexpected high levels of opposition to places where cuts have already been deep.
The respondents were then asked about a series of specific ways that the state might raise additional revenue. The results showed that naturally some proposals were more popular than others. The most popular proposals had well over majority support.
The single most popular proposal was applying a surcharge of 3 percent on income above one million dollars per year: 78 percent approved; 19 percent disapproved, and 3 percent had no opinion or were undecided. This is a measure which has been championed for several years by House Speaker Mike Madigan. Illinois voters overwhelmingly supported an advisory referendum on the millionaire’s tax proposal in 2014, but House lawmakers narrowly rejected two attempts to place the amendment on the ballot in 2015 and 2016.
The next most popular revenue proposal was amending the constitution to allow a graduated income tax, which 72 percent supported, with 24 percent opposed and 4 percent undecided.
In that same vein, 55 percent favored applying the state income tax only to retirement income above $100,000 per year; 39 percent opposed, and 5 percent were undecided.
Another proposal, which is a part of the current debate over raising revenue, is the possibility of expanding gambling in Illinois. This plan was a part of the “grand bargain,” which had been advocated by Senate President John Cullerton and by Republican Senate Minority Leader Christine Radogno, which passed the Senate in late February before the bargain fell apart. Gambling expansion was approved by 55 percent and disapproved by 41 percent of respondents, with 4 percent undecided.
Other revenue plans garnered less than majority support. Raising the income tax to 4.99 percent was approved by 35 percent and opposed by 61 percent, with 4 percent undecided. Applying the income tax to all retirement funds was favored by only 23 percent; with 72 percent opposed and 6 percent undecided.
The respondents were asked about expanding the sales tax base “to cover services like home repairs and landscaping.” This proposal was supported by 36 percent and opposed by 60 percent, with 4 percent undecided. But asked if they favored this addition to the sales tax if the overall tax rate was reduced by half a percent, 57.1 percent favored, 39.4 percent opposed, and 3.5 percent said they did not know.
Finally, the poll asked if the gasoline tax should be raised in order to fund improvements to state highways, roads, and bridges: 42 percent favored, 56 percent opposed, and only 2 percent were undecided.
“It’s a perfect storm. There is divided government in Springfield, no clear voter support for a solution, no taste for cuts to specific areas of the budget, and tremendous amounts of campaign cash already gearing up for the 2018 election,” said Delio Calzolari, associate director of the Institute.
As far as revenues go, 72 percent opposed taxing retirement income, but 68 percent favored that particular tax if the first $100K is exempted.