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Illinoisians Are Willing to Pay More Taxes to Help the Poor

Just don’t ask us where exactly the money should go.

Publicly funded career programs, like the one completed by this young man, are one way respondents cited to help battle poverty.   Photo: Terrence Antonio James/Chicago Tribune

Food for thought as the Illinois legislature continues to circle around a budget: recent polling suggests state residents are willing to pay higher taxes to help the state’s worst off, and by decent margins.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at SIU asked 1,000 people if they would pay more in taxes for a bunch of different solutions “to help the poor.” Only two demographics, people identifying as conservatives and declaring GOP affiliation, said no. In every other breakdown—people making less than $50k or more than $100k, the born-again, Chicagoans and downstaters, all age brackets, even the unemployed—a majority answered in the affirmative.

Even moderates—whom Bruce Rauner is losing—said yes by an enormous margin. Aside from conservatives and Republicans (who broke down 43/53 on the issue), the least likely to support paying more in taxes to help the poor were born-again Christians (52 percent for versus 42 percent against) and the unemployed (52 percent for versus 44 percent against, though they make up a small percentage of respondents). Nonetheless, those are fairly substantial margins.

So we’re clear, right? Not quite. The Simon Institute also asked respondents what we should do to help the poor. And, well, here are the top six answers.

So the public is far from a consensus on where resources should go—not just across the board, but even when broken down into categories. Forty percent of liberals, 38 percent of moderates, and 43 percent of conservatives went the “other” route. In terms of geography, 38 percent of Chicagoans, 42 percent of Chicago suburb-dwellers, and 41 percent of downstate residents responded “other.”

Respondents were a bit more clear on what causes poverty: a shortage of jobs. Thirty-five percent of all respondents said that was “one major reason”; “other” came in second with 17 percent. “Poor quality of public schools” was the top answer in Chicago, with 27 percent; “shortage of jobs” was number one in the suburbs (33 percent) and downstate (43 percent), an unsurprising distribution. Beyond that, the answers dissipated among a long list of answers and the popular “other” and “don’t know.”

So it does seem clear that residents are willing to get behind a tax hike, for this purpose at least. But don’t look to us for any more clarity than that.

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