Illinois Budget Crisis: Residents Want to Cut Our Way to Solvency

A poll on how the state should fix its fiscal problems finds substantial support for cutting spending and gutting some retirement benefits, but divided answers on more complex issues.

SIU’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute just released a poll (600 respondents) about what Illinois should do about its $4 billion deficit. The answers were pretty clear: cut.

The first question gave three options:

1) “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.”
2) “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.”
3) “Illinois’ budget problem is so large it can only be solved by a combination of budget cuts and revenue increases.”

Option two can be viewed as a bit leading, given that it allows the respondent to assume waste without identifying it; one man’s waste is another’s necessity (and while it certainly exists in one form or another, what it consists of and how much it adds up to is a difficult question). Either way, that was by far the most popular response—not just to that question, but to any question on the poll, the only one receiving more than 50 percent.

The second-most popular answer in the whole poll was regarding whether the temporary income tax increase should be made permanent, which deputy majority leader Lou Lang just floated. It’s a bit surprising that “strongly oppose” wasn’t as popular as “we should cut waste.” Or not: people get more divided when solutions get more specific.

Coming in third: respondents strongly opposed expanding the sales tax, which has been identified as a possible solution, given that the state sales tax covers a comparatively narrow range of services.

When it came to a big driver of that structural deficit, pensions, people were much, much more divided, but tended to come down on the side of severity, with some notable exceptions. Zero COLA until retirement age is pretty dramatic. But people were more divided on health care, perhaps because people are more sensitive about health than money, and the downstate pension shift—the latter of which, being a more complex issue, had the highest percentage of “other/don’t know” responses.

1. Would you favor or oppose a proposal to suspend retirees’ annual cost of living increase for six years?
Strongly favor: 21.8%
Favor: 14.7%
Oppose: 20.7%
Strongly: oppose 36.3%
Other/Don’t know: 6.5%

All favor/oppose: 36.5%/57%

2. Would you favor or oppose a proposal to apply cost-of-living increases only to the first $25,000 of retirees’ pensions? 

Strongly favor 21.5%
Favor 23.7%
Oppose 16.3%
Strongly oppose 28.0%
Other/Don’t know 10.5%

All favor/oppose: 45.2%/48.3%

3. Would you favor or oppose a proposal to defer retirees’ cost-of-living increases until they reach age 67?

Strongly favor 30.7%
Favor 27.7%
Oppose 12.8%
Strongly oppose 24.7%
Other/Don’t know 4.2%

All favor/oppose: 58.4%/37.5%

4. Would you favor or oppose a proposal to increase the age at which retirees can receive full pension benefits from 65 to 67 years of age? 

Strongly favor 35.7%
Favor 21.2%
Oppose 11.7%
Strongly oppose 29.7%
Other/Don’t know 1.8%

All favor/oppose: 56.9%/41.4%

5. Would you favor or oppose a proposal to increase the age at which retirees receive state-paid health care benefits from 65 to 67 years of age?

Strongly favor 29.7%
Favor 19.3%
Oppose 14.8%
Strongly oppose 33.8%
Other/Don’t know 2.3%

All favor/oppose: 49%/48.6%

6. Would you favor or oppose a proposal to increase the share that Illinois school districts pay for their employees and to reduce the amount that the state pays?

Strongly favor 21.7%
Favor 23.5%
Oppose 19.3%
Strongly oppose 23.3%
Other/Don’t know 12.2%

All favor/oppose: 45.2%/42.6%

 

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