Sherry Arnold moved back to Illinois to be near her grandbaby. It only took a few years for Illinois’ taxes to drive her back out.
“They doubled my property taxes last year,” Arnold said. “I had three acres separate from the house. When I called and asked about appealing, they said, Yeah, we haven’t touched the tax on the house for a while and you bought it for this, and we think it’s worth this. So if you complain about the property, we’ll raise the house tax, too.”
Add in a doubled gasoline tax among 20 new and higher Illinois tax and fee hikes atop record state income tax hikes in 2011 and again in 2017, plus the prospect of more hikes through a progressive state income tax, and Arnold was done with Illinois. She worried taxes would eat her retirement income. She calculated moving from Collinsville to Missouri would save $2,000 a year just in taxes.
“Every real estate agent said the same thing. ‘They are headed out in droves, and with your property tax increase it will be hard to sell.’ I thought I was too late,” she said.
But she found an agent who was a go-getter. Plus, she dropped her price about $10,000.
“I lost a little bit, but at least I got out,” she said.
Still she worries about her son and daughter-in-law stuck in Illinois because of jobs. They are trying to trade their cars before Jan. 1 to beat a new state tax on trade-in value — a form of double taxation because sales taxes were collected when the vehicles were new.
Arnold is far from alone, according to a new poll by the University of Illinois Springfield. When asked whether they’d thought about moving from Illinois in the past year, 61% of respondents had, up from 53% a year earlier. Their No. 1 reason: high state taxes, followed by state policies.
Arnold chose a condo in downtown St. Louis. She heads to Illinois for family visits but has more time in the city for friends, most of whom are former Illinoisans driven out by the nation’s second-highest property tax burden.
Kiplinger just ranked Illinois as the most tax-unfriendly state in the nation, while Missouri was right in the middle.
All those taxes come at a cost: Illinois for five straight years has lost population, one of only two states to do so in the past decade. In total, 157,000 fewer people live in Illinois than when the streak began in 2014. That’s as if the cities of Collinsville, Belleville, Edwardsville, O’Fallon, Fairview Heights, Swansea and Columbia all just vanished.
St. Clair County lost 9,300 residents since 2010, ranking it fifth nationally for loss among counties of at least 250,000. Madison County ranked 15th after losing nearly 5,000. While Arnold complained about Madison County property taxes that are nearly double the national average, St. Clair County’s average is more than double and since 1996 grew 214% faster than home values.
So what are Illinois state leaders doing to stop the moving vans? Spending more and creating more taxes.
It took them 12 hours on May 31 to pass a record $40 billion state budget and $45 billion infrastructure bill. They imposed those 20 taxes and fees to pay for it all. Plus they want to kill the Illinois Constitution’s flat income tax protection in favor of imposing progressive rates on different income ranges, making it easier to divide taxpayer resistance and avoid the 30% Statehouse turnover they suffered after passing the record income tax increase on everyone in 2017.
Still, even with all those new taxes, Illinois is expected to again this year run a deficit of $1.1 billion. The last time the state budget was balanced was in 2001.
The Illinois Constitution doesn’t need to be changed to give lawmakers greater flexibility to raise taxes. It needs to be changed to control costs and spending. But more than that, state leaders need to show they want to stop the Illinois exodus.
Otherwise, more Illinoisans will likely follow Arnold’s advice: “Just run!”
Brad Weisenstein is editor for the nonpartisan Illinois Policy Institute. For 32 years before that, he was an editor at his hometown newspaper in Belleville.