http://ift.tt/2heGQTKBy The Editorial BoardRockford Register Star
No one is surprised that Illinois lost more residents in 2016 than any other state. There’s been a lot of hand-wringing, shoulder shrugging and general angst that Illinois lost 37,508 people, which puts its population at the lowest it’s been in at least a decade.
That’s important information to have. So who’s going to do something about it?
The reasons people leave are no secret to Illinoisans: high taxes, the state budget stalemate, crime, the unemployment rate and the weather.
Nothing can be done about the weather, but those other four items can be fixed — or at least our lawmakers could TRY.
“People are leaving our state looking for more economic opportunity & a lower tax burden. We need to turn IL around,” Gov. Bruce Rauner tweeted last week.
The Illinois unemployment rate is 5.6 percent while the national average is 4.9 percent.
There are success stories on jobs. Amazon announced plans last week to open two distribution centers in Aurora, which will create employment for more than 1,000 people.
Amazon got help from the state in the form of an Edge tax credit worth $12.9 million over 10 years. However, the EDGE program is going to expire Dec. 31.
The Edge program, which started in 1999 under Gov. George Ryan, is credited with creating 34,000 jobs and retaining 46,000. How many potential jobs will Illinois lose if Edge expires?
Another jobs success story is here in Rockford. AAR Corp., a global leader in the aviation maintenance, repair and overhaul industry, has set up shop at Chicago Rockford International Airport and will bring 500 and perhaps as many as 1,000 jobs.
One of the reasons the deal was possible was because the state of Illinois promised $15 million for the project. Because of the lack of a budget, the state has not been able to pay. Five local banks stepped in to extend a $17 million line of credit to the Greater Rockford Airport Authority, ensuring the jet-repair hub would be completed on schedule.
The examples above show what a critical role the state of Illinois plays in attracting and retaining jobs.
If there were more jobs that paid well, fewer people would flee the state. If there were more jobs available, fewer people would turn to crime.
And, if more people are working and paying taxes, the tax base increases, decreasing the burden on everyone.
To make matters worse, some of the state’s best and brightest young people are deciding to pursue their educations in other states.
The Illinois Board of Higher Education reported that enrollment is dropping in all centers of higher education in Illinois — public universities, community colleges and private colleges.
Illinois State University and the three University of Illinois campuses showed slight increases; all other public schools declined by an average of almost 3 percent compared to last year.
Some lawmakers blame the state’s budget uncertainty for the decline. Public universities are operating under the stopgap budget that is set to expire at the end of the month. Funding for schools is uncertain after that.
Illinois’ population is expected to continue its decline. Illinois still is the fifth-most populous state in the U.S., but this was the third consecutive year in which Illinois was among the few states to lose residents. The Illinois population stands at 12,801,539.
Illinois’ population first began to drop in 2014 and that number more than tripled in 2015. The 2016 numbers just continued that bad trend.
If Illinois had a budget, perhaps the thousands who fled would have decided to stay. One way to find out is for lawmakers to adopt a budget as soon as possible and see whether that helps reverse the population trend.
If not, please let us know where the switch is so that we can turn out the lights when we’re the last to leave.