Lawmakers share priorities in reversing state's population decline


As state lawmakers continue to hash out Illinois’ new political maps, one inescapable truth is the has fewer people.

Lawmakers have different ideas on how to reverse that in the next ten years.

The Democratic majority at the statehouse already passed legislative maps based on estimates. Those are being challenged in the courts. After the U.S. Census released block-level data, lawmakers have been called to come back Aug. 31 to revise the maps. Hearings begin Thursday and carry throughout the weekend.

Congressional maps have yet to surface, but the state is set to lose one seat in the U.S. House of Representatives because of population decline. Illinois lost more than 18,000 people over the span of ten years, one of only three states to lose population.

State Rep. Lamont Robinson, D-Chicago, said his focus to reverse population decline is spurring on tourism.

“We need to make sure that tourism is a priority and I know the governor understands that, and we’re working hard to to that,” Robinson said.

The tourism industry took a major hit when the governor limited gathering sizes during COVID-19, all but ending conventions for months on end. Robinson said he’s working with the governor to get taxpayer-backed business grants to the industry.

As chair of the House Tourism Committee he hears from the industry.

“We need to make sure that we allow small businesses to lessen those barriers and make the grants more accessible,” Robinson said. “And we hear them and we’re working on that.”

Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced earlier this month $10 million in federal taxpayer funded grants to support new and existing tourism attractions and festivals across the state. There’s also $250 million in “Back To Business” grants for small businesses from federal tax resources being made available.

Others have said focusing higher education will help stem population loss. Higher ed in Illinois is getting nearly $2.4 billion in tax dollars from the federal government for COVID relief.

State Rep. Avery Bourne, R-Raymond, said tourism and higher education are good, but the state needs fundamental reform.

“We have to recover more quickly,” Bourne said.

The state lags the nation in recovering jobs during the pandemic, ranking 8th worst from consumer finance website WalletHub . The state also took longer than other states to recover from the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

“Illinois is historically one of the slowest to recover after this but tourism and higher ed aren’t going to be the only things that help us,” Bourne said. “We have to grow faster than we have in the past, and faster than our neighbors to recover, which includes way more broad reforms than just those two things.”

Bourne said the state needs to focus on reform in four key areas: Ethics, economic growth, public safety and fiscal reform.

“And even simple things like letting the public see the budget before we pass it,” Bourne said. “So I think holistically if we changed government in those four areas people would have more confidence and we’d have a growing economy and the accountability that I think we need.”

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