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Fiscally speaking, the trip from Iowa to Illinois is a budgetary free fall.
Iowa’s State Department of Management this month calculates a $928 million budget surplus in the Hawkeye State, or about 15 percent of the annual general fund spending.
That makes Iowa among our nation’s most fiscally sound states.
Cross into Illinois and the government ledger plunges to an $8.3 billion deficit, or about 33 percent of annual general fund spending, according to the Center for Tax and Budget Accountability in Chicago.
True, contrasting Iowa and Illinois can be like comparing apples to aardvarks. The politics, tax structure, service levels and debt drivers are entirely different. But the surplus/deficit comparison stands as a clean indicator of fiscal prudence for a Quad-City community that relies equally on both states.
Though Iowa has plenty of partisan squabbles, each party’s top fiscal legislators seemed to agree on the value of modest surpluses forecast last week.
“The steady, sustainable growth in Iowa’s state revenues is evidence that building an economy that supports middle-class families is working for Iowa,” said Sen. Bob Dvorsky, D-Coralville, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“This practice has driven steady economic growth and enabled us to continue this state’s commitment to improving schools, strengthening health care and making Iowans and their communities more competitive in the global economy,” said Rep. Chuck Soderberg, R-LeMars, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
The impact here on the border tells the story.
Iowa intends to use part of its surplus effectively to buy down local commercial property tax rates by compensating local governments for new restrictions on local taxes.
Illinois still is wrestling with public pension debt that is siphoning money away from schools and economic growth. We see it in Illinois property tax bills already higher than those Iowa is actively reducing. We see it in public schools with far less technology and much older buildings. We also see it in Illinois Q-C companies that eye Iowa.
Illinoisans living far from borders may simply accept the state’s status quo as unavoidable. But on the border, we know better.
Illinois’ fiscal misery is a result of legislative choices, not economic circumstances. As long as the same leaders keep making essentially the same choices, the fiscal gap between Iowa and Illinois will keep growing much wider.