“Should I stay or should I go?”
That’s the title of an iconic 1982 song by the Clash, a British punk rock group, and my good government colleague David Yepsen, director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, thought it was a perfect headline for the institute’s new poll asking Illinois residents the same question.
“Read the lyrics,” Yepsen says: “Trouble if I go, trouble if I stay.”
And trouble when you look at the poll results.
Nearly half the respondents — 47 percent — would leave Illinois if they could, while 51 percent would stay.
The hierarchy of dissatisfaction: Taxes, 27 percent; weather, 16 percent; government, 15 percent; jobs and schools, 13 percent.
“People often feel they don’t get good value for their tax dollars,” Yepsen says, “and with frequent stories of public corruption or the large number of government units, it’s no wonder they feel that way.”
The urge to bid Illinois adieu is strongest — 58 percent — among people 35 to 50. Millennials under 35 are next at 57 percent.
Yepsen finds those figures deeply disturbing: “Younger people are the state’s future.”
My demographic, geezers over 66, are least likely to favor relocation: 29 percent.
Maybe that’s because we’re nearing the end of our careers and not as worried about jobs, and our kids are grown, so we’re less concerned about schools.
In addition, we’ve had more time to make peace with our state’s shortcomings, and to appreciate the benefits of our Midwestern milieu: Chicago, a world-class city, despite its daunting problems; dozens of interesting suburbs with their own mix of pluses and minuses; and a vast swath of downstate diversity that includes an enigmatic state capital, Springfield, famous for gut-busting Horseshoe sandwiches and infamous for lawmakers who can’t pass a budget, pay the bills or manage a pension crisis.
Even so, I still love Illinois.
It’s where I was born and raised, married and had children, worked and played, and eventually qualified for senior discounts.
It’ll always be home.
I’m frustrated by the same maladies poll respondents cite, but confronting those challenges makes life interesting and fulfilling, so I won’t be abandoning the Land of Lincoln like a lot of people I know have or say they will.
They’re not as patient or understanding, and their growing disenchantment, fueled in part by violence in Chicago and gridlock in Springfield, arguably accounts for the other deeply disturbing poll numbers: 84 percent believe Illinois is heading in the wrong direction, and 20 percent, or one in five, say they’re likely to leave the state in the next year.
If 20 percent actually move, or anything close to that, the taxes they won’t pay in Illinois, and the goods and services they won’t buy, will severely impact government and business.
That should be an alarm bell ringing loudly in the ears of our elected leaders. The wake-up message is clear: You’re failing us.
“Not much can be done about the weather,” Yepsen says, “but policymakers can do something about the perception of the quality of services, tax competitiveness, tax fairness, and educational and job opportunities.”
Watchdog groups like the Better Government Association, led by geezers like me, will stay around to shine a light on government and hold public officials accountable.
But others won’t.
Trouble if they go? Better believe it, and unlike the Clash song, not one bit entertaining.
Andy Shaw is President and CEO of the Better Government Association.
Follow Andy Shaw on Twitter: @andyshawbga