Grow Up.

We’re sick of the dysfunction in Illinois.

As someone who was born after 1981, I am considered a “millennial.” Last summer, my generation became the largest cohort in America.

We outnumber all other generations, but still it often seems that elected officials in Springfield have little concern for our general well-being.

Millennials tend to think that the government should be more involved in making college affordable, helping the poor, and creating jobs. We care about equality – both economic and social. And a smaller share of us sees a real difference between the Republicans and the Democrats.

So let’s just take a quick look at how Illinois is faring on those policy issues – college affordability, helping the poor, job creation, and equality.

Due to the Illinois budget impasse, the State took on additional debt through the sale of general obligation bonds, costing future taxpayers another $53 million. Public universities– which have not received funding in over eight months– are laying off employees. Of course, cutting funding for higher education only ends up raising the cost of college tuition for millennial students and their families. Meanwhile, the State has frozen Monetary Award Program (MAP) grants that help low-income students afford college.

I’ll take the liberty of giving the State an “F” on college affordability.

According to the United Way of Illinois, 85 percent of agencies that offer support to struggling residents have reduced their number of clients as a result of the budget crisis. A similar fraction reports cutting back programs for the mentality ill, for the disabled, and for seniors. The Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children, a nonprofit advocacy organization, reported last week that the lack of a budget was negatively impacting HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, sexual assault services and prevention, substance abuse prevention programs, The Autism Project of Illinois, home-delivered meals for low-income seniors…. and I am too depressed to list the rest.

Helping the poor: “F.”

Any good news on job creation and equality?

Nope.

Illinois has the lowest credit rating in the nation. The private sector lost jobs in 7 of the Governor’s first 12 months in office and economic inequality in the state has increased to levels last seen during in the Great Depression era.

“F” on job creation and “F” on equality.

How – when I am talking to high school government classrooms or when I am just having an adult beverage with my friends who are under 35 years old – am I supposed to convince them that Illinois is one of the greatest states in America? Why would millennials want to work, live, and raise a family in a state where certain (older) elected officials often act like children?

I can tell them about the benefits of doing business in Illinois– including excellent universities and the largest inland intermodal port in the Western Hemisphere. I can tell them how wages are higher in Illinois, even after adjusting for the cost of living. I can say that Chicago leads the nation in new and expanded corporate facilities and is the 4th-best city in America for millennials, according to Forbes.

But let’s be honest: It’s getting harder to sell.

And it’s not just millennials who are concerned. According to a recent survey by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University, 84% of Illinois voters say that they think things in the state are going in the “wrong direction.” Half (50%) of the state’s voters disapprove of the way Governor Rauner is handling his job compared to just 41% who approve.

Here’s the truth: If we want to attract millennials to Illinois and we want to leave the state better off for future generations, then we need to fix the budget.

If lower taxes and fewer government services were the key to spurring the state’s economy, isn’t 2015 a great case study?

As reported in the Governor’s Proposed FY2017 Budget, “effective January 1, 2015, the individual income tax rate decreased from 5.0 percent to 3.75 percent and the corporate income tax rate moved from 7.0 percent to 5.25 percent.” In plain English, taxes were lowered. Additionally, as mentioned above, services were dramatically cut.

And yet, the state’ unemployment rate was 6.0% in January 2015. By December, with lower taxes and less government spending, the state’s unemployment was… 6.1%.

That’s because fixing the budget is the most important issue facing Illinois.

Budget surpluses improve investor confidence in the State and ensure that funds are available to effectively combat economic downturns. In addition, they convince millennials that they will not indefinitely be paying for the mistakes made by their parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

So, to any elected officials or to any Illinois Governors who may read this: Stop focusing on issues about which only a few people care, and pass a real budget.

It’s time to grow up.

 


Frank Manzo IV is the Policy Director of the Illinois Economic Policy Institute (ILEPI). Visit ILEPI at www.illinoisepi.org or follow ILEPI on Twitter @illinoisEPI. This post is part of the “Frankonomics” series.

The featured photo is © Flickr user Steven Vance under title: “Rich guy Bruce Rauner running for Illinois governor” with no changes made under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic.

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