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Poll surprises nobody, finding Illinoisans don't like taxes

Posted: Mar. 12, 2017 12:05 am

A statewide poll released last week indicated that a majority of Illinois voters say the state should balance the budget through spending cuts -- without any tax increases.

The only real question is whether the people conducting that poll expected a different result.

Ask people from just about any demographic "Do you like taxes?" and the answer is going to be a resounding "No!"

So, is the poll meant to indicate that the state can cut its way to a balanced budget? If so, what cuts should be made?

A little context would be helpful.

The Illinois Policy Institute reported last August that state spending in the current fiscal year was supposed to hit $39.6 billion. State revenues for the year were projected at about $31.8 billion.

That $7.8 billion deficit is pretty big. But the state also ended calendar 2016 with nearly $11 billion in unpaid bills and about two-thirds of that was carried over from previous years.

It would take about $16 billion in cuts, revenue increases or a combination of the two to balance the budget and catch up on unpaid bills within a single year. But nobody thinks a one-year budget fix is likely, or even possible.

Even if $7.8 billion is cut from the spending plan, that would be nearly a 20 percent cut.

What would take the hit? Would schools, transportation projects, Illinois State Police, Medicaid or a dozen other agencies have to eliminate one dollar out of every five?

Those details might have helped poll respondents make informed decisions. But that information wasn't shared. Maybe there were some respondents who knew a little about state budgets, but their responses to the questions would not have gotten any more weight than any other respondents.

The poll was meant to gauge opinions, not weigh options or illuminate a great funding solution.

Years ago, a newspaper did a poll on whether an Illinois governor should be sent to prison. The man had not yet been put on trial, in fact he hadn't been indicted at that time. Yet a majority of respondents to the poll said they would be in favor of sending him to prison.

America's legal system doesn't work that way.

Illinois government doesn't operate based on polls, either.

When a state budget agreement is reached, it will only happen because a majority of the members in the Illinois House and Senate vote for it.

Right now Democrats represent a majority in both those chambers and favor a combination of spending cuts and additional revenues -- taxes and fees -- to balance the budget.

Tax and fee hikes will not be popular with most people. The survey is right, Illinois residents would rather see the budget balanced entirely through spending cuts. Yet it won't happen that way.

As upsetting as that might be, the current lack of a budget is even worse. Illinois is going an additional $11 million in debt every day it operates without a balanced budget.

The budget crisis has gone on far too long. A balanced budget is needed sooner, rather than later.