CARBONDALE — At a time when public educational institutions, social service providers, and state and local governments are struggling to emerge from Illinois’ multi-year budget impasse, 51 percent of registered voters say the solution to the state’s $1.5 billion budget deficit is to cut “waste and inefficiency in government.”
Meanwhile, 10 percent of those responding to a statewide poll about the state’s budget by Southern Illinois University Carbondale’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, believe the solution is more revenue while another 28 percent say the problem requires a combination of revenues and cuts.
Institute staff John T. Shaw, director; John Jackson, visiting professor; and Linda Baker, university professor, will discuss these and other recent poll findings Thursday in the Student Center Auditorium.
Results from The Simon Poll show that while voters consistently believe cutting waste and inefficiency in state government could solve the budget crisis, voters have also been unable to agree on where to cut. When offered a choice of major budget categories from which to cut spending:
• 29 percent chose higher education
• 17 percent chose health and human services
• 6 percent chose K-12 education.
The largest response category, however, was a volunteered “none of the above,” at 32 percent.
“This year, as in years past, our poll shows the people of Illinois support spending cuts in the abstract, but are reluctant to endorse specific spending cuts. This underscores one of the essential reasons for our state’s seemingly intractable budget problems. The people of Illinois seem to be saying, ‘Please cut spending, but we have no idea of where to actually cut spending — and stay clear of the programs that we like,’” Shaw said.
There are some areas in which a majority of voters support increasing revenue, starting with 76 percent favoring the so-called “millionaire’s tax,” which would impose an extra 3 percent levy on income over $1 million.
Nearly as many, 72 percent, favor a constitutional amendment to allow a graduated income tax, with higher rates for higher earners and lower rates for lower earners.
By a slight margin, 49 percent to 46 percent, respondents favored legalized gambling in Illinois to raise state revenues.
Less popular proposals favored were taxes on gasoline to fund highway, road and bridge improvements (42 percent) and a sales tax on services (39 percent).
A recurring idea is for the state to tax retirement income, such as pensions and social security. This idea is widely unpopular, with 74 percent opposing and only 22 percent in favor.
However, in a follow-up question in which only retirement income above $100,000 would be taxed, majorities are in favor.
Combining the 22 percent who favored it in the first question with the 52 percent of the 745 initial opponents who would favor it with the exemption, 60 percent of the total sample favor taxing retirement income above $100,000.
The institute has been asking the “cuts-versus-income-versus-both” budget question since 2009.
From 2011 to 2015, the percentage of voters believing that cuts were the answer to the problem dropped more than 15 percentage points, from 58 percent to 42 percent. That number jumped to 51 percent favoring cuts in the latest poll.
“This is a perplexing phenomenon in Illinois public opinion,” said Charlie Leonard, an Institute visiting professor and one of the directors of the poll. “After more than a decade of cuts to public budgets, people can’t let go of the idea that there is $1.5 billion in waste to cut.
“We have written about this extensively before, but the persistent belief in cutting ‘waste,’ coupled with the inability to agree on solutions, means we’ll probably still be writing about it in the future.”