October 21, 2010
A recent poll of Illinois voters might help explain why elected officials have been reluctant to make difficult decisions to solve the State of Illinois’ fiscal crisis.
The poll, by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale, asked registered voters to choose among three different proposals for closing the State’s roughly $13 billion deficit in FY2011. More than half of the respondents—57.0%—said the State takes in plenty of money and can fix the problem by cutting waste and inefficiency. Another 26.6% supported more revenue along with spending cuts, while 9.3% favored a tax increase. The remaining 7.1% did not know or had no opinion.
These results, based on a statewide poll of 1,000 voters between September 30, 2010 and October 10, 2010, are almost unchanged from a Simon Institute poll a year ago. In that poll, 56.5% of respondents wanted to fix the problem by cutting waste, 27.3% favored a combination of increased taxes and budget cuts, 9.5% supported tax increases as the entire solution and 6.8% did not know or had no opinion. The margin of error was 3.0 percentage points for the 2010 poll and 3.4 percentage points for the 2009 poll.
Few experts believe that eliminating waste and inefficiency in state government would generate enough savings to close the huge budget gap. The Civic Federation in February 2010 issued a fiscal rehabilitation plan for the State that called for budget cuts and spending reforms, to be followed by tax increases to pay off outstanding liabilities.
The State took a first step toward reforming its retirement systems in April 2010 with Public Act 96-0889, which lowers benefits for new employees. However, there have not been substantial spending cuts or tax increases. The FY2011 budget deficit is currently projected at $12.3 billion, consisting of an operating shortfall of $5.8 billion and an accumulated deficit from prior years of $6.5 billion.
The Simon Institute found some shifts in public opinion about taxes and budgets between 2009 and 2010. These changes came to light when voters were asked whether they favored specific steps that have been proposed for dealing with the deficit.
For example, more voters—but not a majority—favored an income tax increase this year than in 2009. In 2010, 40.9% favored an income tax increase, while 56.2% opposed the idea. In 2009, 32.1% supported an income tax increase and 65.5% were against it. However, the specific tax increase proposals that voters were questioned about were not the same in the two years. In 2010, the poll asked about an increase in the individual income tax rate from 3% to 4%, which is the current plan favored by Gov. Pat Quinn. Last year voters were asked about the Governor’s previous plan, which called for an increase from 3% to 4.5%.
A majority of respondents did not favor any type of tax increase in either of the years. The only new revenue source that won near-majority support was expanding legalized gambling. The percentage favoring such an expansion rose from 44.5% to 49.9%.
Respondents in both years were overwhelmingly opposed to budget cuts in most areas where the State spends the bulk of its money: human services, elementary and secondary education and public safety. The only spending cut favored by a near-majority was to public employee pension benefits, a move favored by 39.5% in 2009 and 45.5% in 2010.