Issue Brief: How Does Illinois Spending on Public Services Compare to Other States?
January 23, 2014
Recent projections show that the state of Illinois will run a deficit ranging from $7.59 to $7.96 billion in Fiscal Year (FY) 2014. This is, however, nothing new. According to the Comptroller’s Office, the state has run a deficit in its General Fund every year since at least FY1991. This creates genuine cause for concern, since over $9 out of every $10 spent through the General Fund goes to four core service areas: education (35 percent), healthcare (29 percent), human services (20 percent), and public safety (6 percent).
Given that the state’s General Fund deficits have been sustained over such a long period of time, many believe that spending on those core services in Illinois must be exceedingly high, and hence a major reason why the state experiences recurring budget shortfalls. The data on spending, however, paint a very different picture. When considered over the long-term, it is clear that General Fund spending on services in Illinois is actually declining in real terms after adjusting for inflation.
Reducing spending in real terms over time could be an appropriate path to follow if service spending in the state was exceptionally high or overly generous compared to service spending in other states. However, under any objective evaluation, Illinois ranks near the bottom nationally in its spending on core services, which means that reducing investments in real terms over time is not an appropriate way to deal with the state’s deficits.
This Issue Brief compares Illinois’ General Fund (GF) spending on services to other states using three metrics: (i) per capita; (ii) as share of state Gross Domestic Product (GDP); and (iii) number of state employees per 1,000 residents. Under each metric, Illinois ranks as one of the lowest spending states in the nation.