House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside

House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, and House Speaker Chris Welch, D-Hillside

(The Center Square) – Legislative leaders in the Illinois House differ on what is causing the state to see continued population decline, and how to reverse the trend.

The state lost nearly 80,000 people in the year that ended July 2020, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data. That’s 22,000 more than were lost the year before and the seventh consecutive loss of population in the past 10 years. Illinois led the nation in population decline for the past decade at 255,000.

Illinois House Speaker Emanuel “Chris” Welch, D-Hillside, told the Economic Club of Chicago on Wednesday the state has been losing population for years. Without details, he said the state needs to support small and big businesses. He also said leaders need to unite on messaging.

“Making sure people know that this is a state where they can come and be innovative and great, and this negative rhetoric just tears us down and sets us back,” Welch said.

Separately, House Minority Leader Jim Durkin, R-Western Springs, said the way to reverse the state’s population decline isn’t through rhetoric, but rather through policy.

“People are leaving Illinois because they are sickened by the policies, the corruption, the spending, the lack of accountability, and the failure to be responsible with their money,” Durkin said.

To reverse the outmigration trend, Durkin said lawmakers need to show taxpayers the state can live within its means.

The state’s migration issue is also developing into a campaign issue in the upcoming 2022 gubernatorial election.

When asked Wednesday about possible tax increases, Welch said everything is on the table.

“We have a long way to go in this [budget] process, and I don’t think we should rule anything out,” Welch said. “I think both parties should come into the room and honestly keep an open mind to all of these issues.”

The speaker also discussed bringing back the proposed progressive income tax that failed in November 2020, but tying that to paying down pension debt.

To the corporate tax incentive programs the governor proposed to end with a $930 million impact, Welch said he agrees with some of those, calling them “corporate welfare.”

Those are business incentives meant to grow the state’s economy, Durkin said, and ending those is deaf to why people are leaving the state.

“There’s a tone-deaf consistency that the Democrats have when it comes to spending other people’s money,” Durkin said. “Those other people happen to be the taxpayers of Illinois.”

The legislature returns with virtual hearings Monday. They have until May 31 to pass a balanced budget for the coming fiscal year.

Staff Reporter

Greg Bishop reports on Illinois government and other issues for The Center Square. Bishop has years of award-winning broadcast experience and hosts the WMAY Morning Newsfeed out of Springfield.