When Emerson College released its latest Illinois poll last week, its press release included three “key takeaways.” At the very top of his list was this: “Fifty-two percent (52%) of the majority of voters think things in Illinois are on the wrong track, while 48% think things are going wrong. good direction.”
The college is based in Massachusetts, a liberal state with a popular Republican governor. A recent poll in Massachusetts by the University of Suffolk found that 59% thought their state was on the right track, while 33% said it was on the wrong track.
So while I can easily see why people in Massachusetts would point to an opposite opinion in Illinois as bad news, this poll result was actually very good news.
In 2008, when Rod Blagojevich was nearing his fateful end, the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute found that 75% of Illinoisans thought Illinois was heading in the wrong direction, while 12.4% thought it was going in the wrong direction. good direction.
In 2010, the Simon Institute obtained the wrong/right track result at 81%-11%. In 2011, the Institute’s poll pegged the numbers at 75% – 15% false/true, and it stayed there for quite some time. The 2012 Simon Poll wrong/right results were 70% to 20%. The 2013 Simon poll had it at 75%-16%.
In early 2015, shortly after Republican Bruce Rauner was inaugurated as governor, the mood in Illinois improved somewhat.
In 2016, after everything went wild in Springfield amid Rauner’s refusal to negotiate a budget until he won his war on the unions, things got even worse. The Simon Poll found that 84% of voters in the state thought Illinois was on the wrong track, while only 10% thought it was on the right track. The Simon poll numbers were essentially unchanged two years later (84%-9%) as Rauner completed his first and only term.
Illinoisans have overwhelmingly agreed on one thing over the years: Illinois sucks. That’s a pretty remarkable consensus.
And it’s not like people are totally wrong.
We have more than our share of crooked politicians. We had three governors in a row who made a complete mess. Our former Speaker of the House had more concentrated power than anyone in our state’s history, and he often used his office to play against other people and institutions for sports.
Problems were ignored, everything seemed to be falling apart, there was never enough money to meet basic goals.
Entire cottage industries have sprung up to cash in on Illinois’ collective hatred of their state by giving them often-butchered data to feed their rage. Everything is bad all the time for these groups. “Death spiral” was one of their favorite expressions to describe the predicament in Illinois. People were paid well enough to live in nice houses and tell everyone that their lives were miserable because of state employee pensions, or what the current bogeyman was.
Then something happened that upset a lot of people at the time but changed everything. A supermajority of Republicans and Democrats overruled Rauner’s veto to an income tax hike. Oh, there was such blinding, white-hot rage from the well-paid doomsayers at the time. But I think they knew the concert was over.
It took a few years to pay off the crushing short-term debts incurred under Rauner and his predecessors, but the state began to recover again with this additional revenue. After some decent governance, people in the “death spiral” have mostly moved on to opposing COVID-19 mitigations, or complaining about “critical race theory” or whatever. .
Because of this increase in tax revenue, our retirement debt, while high, has become much more manageable. Businesses and nonprofits that do much of the government’s real physical work need not worry about not getting paid in a timely manner. Subsequent increases in fuel taxes and the expansion of gambling and the legalization of cannabis provided the funds needed to repair our decrepit roads and bridges, repair our dilapidated public buildings, and invest in neglected communities.
Again, I don’t strongly disagree with popular sentiment over the years. Illinois has often been a basket case, even without the deliberately provocative exaggerations of the pessimistic types. And I also agree with what seems to be the current sentiment that Illinois is slightly more negative than positive. We still have a long way to go. But, at least now, the destination may be in sight.
It would certainly be nice to live in a more “normal” state.
Rich Miller also publishes Capitol Fax, a daily political newsletter, and CapitolFax.com.
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