Residents continue to leave Illinois, but the problems aren’t going anywhere.
In fact, they’re likely only getting worse because of the mass exodus in recent years.
According to reports, Illinois lost about 45,000 residents from 2017 to 2018, a decline in population for the fifth year in a row. It was a steeper drop than the year before, when about 40,000 people left.
More than 100,000 people have left since 2013.
It’s easy to understand why people would move out, with mounting pension debt and an array of new taxes to cover pension payments.
At least elected officials and those running for mayor of Chicago are considering new sources of revenue to make pension payments; not all of them are fair to taxpayers, but some should be considered.
Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker said he favors legalizing recreational marijuana, a tax on which could provide a big boost to covering pensions. Using tax dollars from marijuana sales is more favorable to Illinois residents than is raising their property taxes or even instituting a graduated income tax.
Building a casino in Chicago has also been discussed more recently, and it needs to become a reality.
Officials have also discussed amending the state constitution, which requires pension benefits “shall not be diminished or impaired.”
Ideally, public employees would receive the pensions to which they originally agreed. However, it isn’t a feasible plan. It’s impossible for funding to keep up, and that becomes more difficult with more people leaving Illinois.
While Illinois might not be an appealing place to live right now, it’s also frustrating to watch those who benefit from pensions pack up and leave the state after they retire; it would be better to see them stay and contribute back to the system. Instead, those who need to live Illinois—for work or family purposes—are left with a rising bill.
If pension reform does occur, officials should explore offering different payment plans for retirees who remain to live in Illinois versus those who move out. If people stay, they receive more.
As the calendar turns to 2019, Illinois awaits a new governor, and Chicago will choose a new mayor. Residents have clearly reached their breaking point. It’s up to elected officials to make the state attractive—or at least not as repulsive.