SPRINGFIELD — A new poll may lend some credence to Gov. Bruce Rauner’s frequent claim that high taxes are driving people out of Illinois.
The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University recently found that 47 percent of registered voters in Illinois say they want to move out, with 27 percent of them citing taxes as their top reason. However, just 20 percent say it’s likely they’ll move in the coming year.
David Yepsen, director of the Simon Institute, said this is the first time researchers have asked this set of questions in their surveys.
The available data on migration, which comes from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Internal Revenue Service and surveys conducted by moving companies, among other sources, typically doesn’t explain why people leave, Yepsen said, so the institute wanted to find out what factors lead people to consider moving.
Given the focus on taxes and the state’s fiscal problems in current political debates in Springfield, Yepsen said it didn’t surprise him to see taxes rank high on the list.
“My theory about taxes is people do not mind paying taxes if they feel they’re getting value for them,” he said. “It’s when they don’t feel they’re getting value that they get upset, and here in Illinois, you’ve just had too many examples of corruption, misspending, and people … just are unhappy.”
That’s also reflected by the 84 percent of voters who say the state is headed in the wrong direction, Yepsen added.
Among the other reasons people cite for wanting to leave are weather (16 percent), government (15 percent), and jobs and education (13 percent). The survey of 1,000 registered voters was conducted in late September and early October and has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.
While Rauner often says new revenue will need to be part of the solution to his ongoing budget standoff with Democrats, the Republican also frequently cites taxes as one of the reasons people leave the state.
In his February budget address, for example, he said, “The true solution to fixing our budget is to raise revenue by expanding our tax base and growing our economy, not by raising taxes and driving more jobs and families out of our state.”
While it’s clear that people are leaving Illinois — 67,535 more people moved out of the state from 2014 to 2015 than moved in, according to Census Bureau figures — it remains unclear whether taxes are a deciding factor for those who leave.
Tax policy firm KDM Consulting tried to address that question earlier this year in a report titled “Who Is Leaving Illinois and Why?”
As it turns out, the second question can’t be answered easily, particularly when it comes to taxes.
The report notes, “There does not appear to be consensus (in academic research) on whether or not state tax rates or burden are a major … factor in explaining state migration patterns.” Also, Census Bureau surveys on the reasons people move don’t include taxes as an option.
Steve Brown, a spokesman for Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, D-Chicago, said the Simon Institute survey provides worthwhile data but could have included additional questions, such as where those who’d like to leave Illinois intend to go.
“A lot of places you go, you find that the tax rates are higher or more things are taxed,” Brown said.
Illinois’ flat 3.75 percent income tax rate is lower than the rates in many other states, but its local property taxes are among the highest in the nation.