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Poll: Majority of Illinoisans believe in budgetary magic beans

Friday, Mar 9, 2018 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll

The state of Illinois has a budget deficit of over 1.5 billion dollars. I’m going to read three statements that people have made about how to fix the deficit, and ask you which one comes closest to your views. If you haven’t though much about this issue just tell me that.

* Illinois’ public programs and services have already been reduced significantly. We can only fix the problem by taking in more revenue, such as a tax increase.

* The state takes in plenty of money to pay for public services, but wastes it on unnecessary programs. We can fix the problem by cutting waste and inefficiency in government.

* Illinois’ budget problem is so large it can only be solved by a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases.

* Haven’t though much about it.

    More revenues 10%
    Cuts to waste and inefficiencies 51%
    Both cuts and revenues 28%
    Haven’t thought much 6%
    Other/Don’t know (not read) 5%

Since 85 percent of the state’s budget is made up of K-12 education, higher education, and health and human services, which one of these areas should be cut to make up the difference?

    K-12 6%
    Higher education 29%
    Health and human services 17%
    All of the above (not read) 3%
    None of the above (not read) 32%
    Other/Don’t know 13%

* From the press release

“This year, as in years past, our poll shows the people of Illinois support spending cuts in the abstract, but are reluctant to endorse specific spending cuts. This underscores one of the essential reasons for our state’s seemingly intractable budget problems. The people of Illinois seem to be saying, ‘Please cut spending, but we have no idea of where to actually cut spending- and stay clear of the programs that we like’” said John Shaw, director of the Paul Simon Institute. […]

From 2011 to 2015, the percentage of voters believing that cuts were the answer to the problem dropped more than 15 percentage points, from 58 percent to 42 percent. That number has since flattened, and jumped to 51 percent favoring cuts in the latest poll.

“This is a perplexing phenomenon in Illinois public opinion,” said Charlie Leonard, an Institute visiting professor and one of the directors of the poll. “After more than a decade of cuts to public budgets, people can’t let go of the idea that there is $1.5 billion in waste to cut. We have written about this extensively before, but the persistent belief in cutting ‘waste,’ coupled with the inability to agree on solutions, means we’ll probably still be writing about it in the future.”

Methodology is here.


  1. - PJ - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:15 am:

    It’s not really perplexing or specific to Illinois. Low information individuals choose the easiest sounding option because they don’t understand public policy or why it isn’t always easy.

  2. - Amalia - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:22 am:

    what PJ wrote. people don’t understand the complexity of running government. they want the services, but think that someone else can pay for the services. and people in government often respond to screamers who protest cuts that really aren’t that bad. think anything involved with some teeny kids program that is not educational or someone’s small recreational need. government officials have a hard time keeping their spine in the face of 5 screamers. this will only get worse as time moves on. need for a John McCarron column in the Tribune on a regular basis to provide public education on how government is funded and what governments fund. that said, consolidation is necessary. goodbye townships.

  3. - PJ - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:28 am:

    And to make it worse, the conservative movement has spent the last few decades convincing people that government is bad and useless (even if you are literally a person receiving government benefits). So the narrative that there’s tons of room to cut “waste” in government at all times fits perfectly into that narrow worldview.

  4. - Political Animal - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:30 am:

    There’s a lot more than $1.5 billion of waste in the state budget. It just depends on how you define “waste.”

    I’d say paying for platinum health insurance plans for state workers is waste. I’d say paying for overtime after 37.5 hours is waste. The number of administrators in both K-12 and higher ed is wasteful.

  5. - Anonymous - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:30 am:


  6. - Anonymous - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:33 am:

    lets just cut property taxes. raise income taxes on rich and lower buisness taxes

  7. - NoGifts - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:38 am:

    It’s not a surprise. People mainly learn about the issues from their politicians, and our politicians have done the public a huge disservice by not being honest about the situation. They can’t even agree on what the facts are, so how is the public supposed to know what’s going on?

  8. - @misterjayem - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:41 am:

    Alas, there’s no shortage of bean lovers in the comments above…

    – MrJM

  9. - Smitty Irving - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:44 am:

    Political Animal -
    You do know that the 37.5 hour work week is set by statute, specifically page 542 of Laws 1965, right?

  10. - Arsenal - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:47 am:

    Frankly, I kinda blame the pollster and other pundits and politicians for framing the issue like this.

  11. - hisgirlfriday - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:48 am:

    Ugh at all that support for higher ed cuts.

    Universities really need to do a lot better job persuading the public of their overall benefits to the economy than they are doing now. Total outreach to all taxpayers needs to happen. Not just to alums and their individual communities.

  12. - Keyrock - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:50 am:

    Many Illinois politicians of both parties have been longtime proponents of magic beans.

    The postponement of paying for pensions, and the failure to fully fund education, has been bipartisan.

  13. - Century Club - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:52 am:

    I’m with Aresnal. People respond like this because it is politically expedient for politicians of both parties to frame the issues this way. People believe in magic beans because a lot of our ‘leaders’ are selling them.

  14. - don the legend - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:57 am:

    The biggest purveyor of magic bean sales of the last three years has been none other than our very own Governor Junk.

    Billions in a “grand bargain”.
    Billions in “pension reform”.
    Billions in “waste and fraud”.
    Billions in “technology and efficiency”.

  15. - Louis G. Atsaves - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:00 am:

    The cuts are impossible theology will rear its ugly head today in the comments section.

    Perhaps we should consult with Maria Pappas, Cook County Treasurer, who over the span of two decades reduced her workforce from around 250 to 85, and still reduces her budget every single year?

  16. - Perrid - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:06 am:

    @ Arsenal, how do you want pollsters to propose it? They gave the three options, cut costs, raise revenue, or both, and then asked the follow up question. You want to blame politicians for saying that there’s a huge amount of waste that’s fine, or blame politicians that say things like millionaires aren’t paying their “fair” share and thus suggesting a tax hike wouldn’t hurt the middle class, that’s fine too, but the pollster just asked the question the way it’s been presented for decades.

  17. - 47th Ward - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:07 am:

    ===Universities really need to do a lot better job persuading the public of their overall benefits===

    Well said, I completely agree.

    Higher Ed is both a private good for the individuals who graduate in terms of the obvious benefits, but also a public good. The public good benefits are less obvious, but an educated citizenry, culture, research, and the economic impact of universities and the innovation that bring to communities needs to be highlighted.

    Unfortunately most people see it only as a private good, and thus think the students should pay more because they receive the most benefit. Higher education as an institution has been targeted by those seeking to shrink the size of government and to lower taxes. This is one of the results: that funding higher education in Illinois (and plenty of other states) is becoming increasingly reliant on tuition rather than public funding.

    Sadly, I expect this trend to continue.

  18. - Hamlet's Ghost - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:07 am:

    “This is a perplexing phenomenon in Illinois public opinion,”

    No, not really. Not perplexing at all.

    This is a consequence of decades of pandering supported by billions of dollars in political advertising.

  19. - Hamlet's Ghost - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:12 am:

    == The cuts are impossible theology will rear its ugly head today in the comments section. ==

    Nope. Cuts are possible but a strong majority doesn’t want to make those cuts.

    And the types of cuts needed lead to things like state wide teachers strikes. See West Virginia and possible Oklahoma, next.

  20. - Blue Dog Dem - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:16 am:

    Waste might be the wrong word. How about niceties. And yes, as stated many,many times. Give me a crack at that $1.5 billion.

  21. - Arthur Andersen - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:25 am:

    Blue, no one’s holding you back. Show your work, please.

  22. - illini - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:26 am:

    Isn’t it encouraging to know that 51% of those in the survey still believe in the magic beans solution of eliminating “waste, fraud and inefficiency”. Always the easy answer while the mechanics of implementing major changes could have devastating consequences.

    And a third of the respondents want to cut Higher Ed even further. Not encouraging.

  23. - Chicago Cynic - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:27 am:

    Every year this comes out and every year I find it depressing. BTW, if you asked the same kind of question nationally, the answer is pretty much the same with the caveat that most people think we spend 20% of our budget on foreign aid (less than 1%) and if we just slash that then we’re good.

  24. - RNUG - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 10:38 am:

    According to this poll, the public wants Waste, Fraud and Abuse cut … and if that isn’t enough, then starve higher education.

    Two thoughts on that.

    1) How did that work out the last couple of years?

    2) Is this poll just a reflection of Rauner’s unending multi-million dollar sales pitch the last four years?

  25. - Chicago Cynic - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:03 am:

    I think it’s a reflection of the fact the huge percentages of the populace didn’t receive higher education and they want to cut it.

  26. - West Side the Best Side - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:05 am:

    With the obscene amount of money spent on political advertising, how about we tax that. 25 cents for every dollar spent. And the candidate paying the tax could specify where it would go. If they say they’re the education candidate it would go to education, better roads to IDOT, etc. (Man, I can’t wait for Lent to be over so I can go back to drink and not keep having crazy thoughts.)

  27. - Just Observing - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:06 am:

    I agree that people too often want government to do more and more, but decry the spending. That said, in my opinion, and not just as the state level, government does too much (and too much badly) and there is lots of room for cuts and better efficiencies.

  28. - Last Bull Moose - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:09 am:

    The poll answers indicate much of what we spend on public education is wasted. Maybe this universal suffrage idea is not so good after all.

  29. - lake county democrat - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:15 am:

    This goes into it too:

    People see tech disruption all around them and have a sense that the public sector is more resistant to it. Also, remember there were doomsday predictions when the federal budget faced sequestration. Those predictions were so wrong, and the budget deficit decreased so much, that Obama ended up downplaying the hurt that was caused and talking it up as an achievement in the 2012 campaign.

  30. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:16 am:

    - Political Animal - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 9:30 am:

    There’s a lot more than $1.5 billion of waste in the state budget. It just depends on how you define “waste.”

    I’d say paying for platinum health insurance plans for state workers is waste. I’d say paying for overtime after 37.5 hours is waste. The number of administrators in both K-12 and higher ed is wasteful.


  31. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:19 am:

    I agree with Political Animal

  32. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:20 am:

    Eliminating either EIU or WIU would be a great start.

  33. - Oswego Willy - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:21 am:

    ===Eliminating either EIU or WIU would be a great start.===

    No one is running on that as a platform.

    Wonder why?

  34. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:23 am:

    OW, we have a bunch of cowards running.

  35. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:24 am:

    Smitty, laws can be changed.

  36. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:25 am:

    Louis, Pappas is literally the best Cook County pol.

  37. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:26 am:

    Wish she would run agains Toni.

  38. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:29 am:

    47th, it is a shame that Illinois has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation and yet can’t fund higher ed. I’d much rather fund higher ed, than outrageous public employee benefits. But we can’t have nice things in IL.

  39. - Smitty Irving - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:31 am:

    Ron -
    Yes they can. Can you point to the bill to do that?

  40. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:37 am:

    If we didn’t live in a kleptocracy of and for pols and public employees, that would have been changed ages ago.

  41. - Smitty Irving - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 11:49 am:

    Ron -
    Increasing the work day from 7.5 to 8 hours is a 6.7% increase. Perhaps the cost of that increase (along with social security) is why it wasn’t done?

  42. - Lester Holt’s Mustache - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:02 pm:

    Ron is right, the state really should hire hundreds more state police officers and prison guards to avoid overtime costs. Of course then we would have to pay for all of their salaries, healthcare and pensions instead of just paying overtime to existing employees, but it would make clueless voters happy and that’s really what is most important when discussing budgetary concerns.

  43. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:03 pm:

    No, people should work 40/week. It’s really simple

  44. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:04 pm:

    And not get paid more to work 40/week.

  45. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:05 pm:

    Don’t like it? Please quit. That would help reduce pensions.

  46. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:05 pm:

    The bubble of the Illinois public sector needs to be popped.

  47. - theCardinal - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:11 pm:

    Ron …..Closing 1 or 2 universities that generate a huge economic benefit to the respective regions will not help and would actually collapse local economies there…Look at the GRF budgets of those two schools aint all that big and sure wont make a diff in a $1.5 billion deficit hole. Everyone knows its entitlement and pensions making that huge sucking sound …Move along folks nothing to see here !

  48. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:14 pm:

    Can anyone explain why Illinois with a cost of living at the national average has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation? It’s not like our government provides anything better than other state governments. It’s the opposite, we seem to pay a lot for very little.

  49. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:15 pm:

    Cardinal, I agree it’s sad, but we can’t afford nice things.

  50. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:16 pm:

    Our public workforce and pols need all our money. Who cares about services for the taxpayers?

  51. - Smitty Irving - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:17 pm:

    Ron -
    Actually, we do get a “lot” - more units of government than any other state.

  52. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:28 pm:

    Smitty, good point. That is in fact waste.

  53. - don the legend - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:47 pm:

    Ron likes things simple. He likes a ton of simple. You might say Ron is a simple…

  54. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 12:55 pm:

    don, I see you have a lot to add. Can you explain why Illinois with a cost of living at the national average has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation? It’s not like our government provides anything better than other state governments. It’s the opposite, we seem to pay a lot for very little.

  55. - anon2 - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 1:03 pm:

    It’s rare but encouraging to read praise for a Cook County Democratic politician, veteran Maria Pappas. Preckwinkle has also downsized the parts of the county budget she has control over.

  56. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 1:07 pm:

    Too bad Toni also raised the sales tax. Pappas should have run against her.

  57. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 1:10 pm:

    I was a huge Prekwinkle supporter until she morphed into Stroger.

  58. - SAP - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 2:21 pm:

    ==Can anyone explain why Illinois with a cost of living at the national average has one of the highest tax burdens in the nation?== Yup, decades of using the public pension systems as the state’s credit card. Now that its time to pay the bill and that pesky Constitution thingy prevents the state from turning deadbeat, a huge portion of our tax dollars go toward repaying that debt we deferred for all of those decades.

  59. - JoanP - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 2:34 pm:


    I often get into arguments with people who are shocked, shocked! that they have to pay a fee to a library if they don’t live in the library district. Or god forbid they should pay to enter a museum (see current brouhaha over the Met’s new policy).

    “Libraries and museums should be free!”, they cry. When I ask, so how will they pay staff, light bills, new acquisitions, etc., the response often is, “the government should pay”.

    “And where do you think the ‘government’ will get the money to do that?” Blank stares.

    No, there are no money trees in Springfield, Washington, your school district, or anywhere else.

    Drives me nuts.

  60. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 3:38 pm:

    SAP, the problem is, we didn’t get anythign back then either. The state has been run as a kleptocracy for decades.

  61. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 3:39 pm:

    JoanP, I’m a huge proponent of user fees.

  62. - Ron - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 3:40 pm:

    All highways should have tolls.

  63. - Braveheart - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 3:59 pm:

    =OW, we have a bunch of cowards running.=

    A reflection of the voters. I wonder who THEY could be?

  64. - Dutch3001 - Friday, Mar 9, 18 @ 4:29 pm:

    Not perplexing at all. The idea of a “free lunch” that somebody else (the tooth fairy?) pays for is a bedrock principle of American democracy. I think it is written in the Constitution somewhere, as a matter of fact. I have given talks to the general public on different aspect of the history of Illinois for over 20 years where I am invariably asked by someone in the audience why their favorite park or historic site is closed, why is there little or no staff, when will it be reopened, etc. I always respond that the problem is the state does not have enough money and ask how many people would be in favor of paying more taxes if it meant that the state park or historic site they have visited since being a kid and profess to love could be reopened or repaired. No one ever raises a hand. Ever. In over 20 years. Ever.

Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.

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