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McCaleb: Adios Illinois; more consider fleeing tax unfriendly Illinois

Like many other Illinoisans, Michael McNeely has had enough.

An agricultural banker from Philo, a town of about 1,500 residents located just southeast of Champaign, McNeely says he and his wife will be leaving the state he’s called home the past 62 years because he no longer wants to send so much of his hard-earned money to state and local governments that don’t know how to spend it wisely.

“I pay $6,000 in property taxes on my home in a small town,” McNeely told me. “I have no sidewalk, no sewer and no cops in my town. It’s $6,000 for the privilege of living in my own town. I’m ready to get the heck out. I see no change.”

Like many Illinoisans, McNeely followed the special sessions of the Illinois General Assembly that have consumed much of the summer. 

He followed as powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan pushed through a $5 billion income tax increase on a budget that spends that much more than the state brought in last fiscal year. He followed as Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the tax increases while trying and failing to get property tax relief for homeowners such as McNeely. He’s following as Madigan hijacks school funding to try and force suburban and downstate taxpayers such as McNeely to bail out Chicago Public Schools’ failing pensions, even though the McNeelys of the world have had nothing to do with the city-made crisis.

Rauner used his amendatory veto authority on Tuesday, but the ramifications of this are not completely clear at this time. What is clear is that lawmakers have more work to do. 

“I don’t know how Madigan can sleep at night,” McNeely said. “I applaud Rauner for what he’s trying to do. I think you have to toe the line somewhere. I cannot run my household like the state runs theirs. You can’t do that.”

For years, state government has been spending billions of dollars more than it brings in despite a constitutional mandate to adopt balanced budgets. It’s ignored its failing pensions systems, which are now underfunded by more than $130 billion. It’s neglected to pay vendors to the point where it’s accumulated a backlog of bills totaling about $15 billion.

State government’s only solution seems to be to take even more money from its hard-working residents, even though many can’t afford it.

Even before last month’s 32 percent income tax increase, which will have the average Illinoisan sending about an additional $1,000 annually to fund a wasteful, corrupt state government, the state’s residents paid the highest combined state and local taxes in the country. The unreasonably high taxes in Illinois are leading to the worst population declines in the country because families can no longer afford to live here.

Since last month’s tax increase, I’ve sadly heard from too many others who say they either are definitely leaving or considering leaving because of the tax burden.

And it’s not just residents who are moving across state lines. Because of the tax situation and Illinois’ overly burdensome regulations, businesses are, too.

“I’m associated with a lot of different businesses and I know a lot of people who moved their business across the state line to Indiana,” McNeely said. “It’s because of high workers’ compensation costs, property taxes and income taxes.”

Rauner has fought for reforms to improve Illinois’ poor business climate, but he’s had little success with Madigan and Democrats in control of the General Assembly.

And folks like McNeely – who is looking to relocate to the Nashville area in Tennessee, “tax friendly for sure” – have had enough.

“Our Illinois government has too many levels, too many state workers and too much Chicago politics. It’s horrible,” McNeely said. “Adios, Illinois.”

• Dan McCaleb is news director of Illinois News Network and the digital hub ILNews.org. He welcomes your comments. Contact Dan at dmccaleb@ilnews.org.

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