Illinois Policy Institute
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|Focus||Expanding free-market principles in Illinois|
|Subsidiaries||Liberty Justice Center|
The Illinois Policy Institute, a public policy research organization, was founded in 2002 and has offices in Chicago and Springfield. The Institute has been described as an independent government watchdog, conservative, libertarian, free-market, and nonpartisan.
The Illinois Policy Institute is a 501(c)(3) public charity with an associated lobbying unit called the Illinois Policy Action, a 501(c)(4). The Institute also has an affiliated public-interest law firm named the Liberty Justice Center. The Illinois Policy Institute is a member of the State Policy Network.
The Illinois Policy Institute's policy research covers budget and tax issues, economic trends and criminal justice reform, cronyism, and budget and economic issues. The institute does not take positions on social issues. The group has been active in public policy areas including supporting state spending cuts and opposing state tax increases, supporting public pension reform, and advocating for school choice.
The Institute's work and the growth of its online community have established it as "one of the most feared" policy organizations in the state, according to CapitolFax publisher Rich Miller. This was evident during the lead up to the 2017 income tax hike, when the Institute directed 35,000 constituent emails to lawmakers in roughly one week. Nine of the 15 Republican state lawmakers who voted for the tax hike subsequently resigned or announced they would not run for re-election, with one more later losing his primary election.
Budget and tax
Each year since 2009, the Institute has provided a balanced budget proposal for the state of Illinois, which has not passed a balanced budget since 2001. In 2013, the Institute provided research in support of legislation that would add fiscal notes to proposed legislation in the Illinois General Assembly so politicians understand the full financial impact of a bill before passing it. The bill gained bipartisan support.
In 2013-2014, the Institute opposed a progressive tax supported by public employee unions and some legislators. The Institute has produced research highlighting Illinois' high property tax burden, and has proposed reforms to limit the cost-drivers of property tax bills in Illinois, including school district consolidation, pension reform, collective bargaining reform and more.
In 2018, the Institute published a report that showed why some states have struggled to attract residents while others are thriving. The research compiled the cost of homeownership in all 50 states. It compared the pre-housing bubble period (2002-2004) to the post-recession period (2013-2015). The cost of homeownership in 47 states was down during that time, meaning that people would have made good financial bets if they had moved in before the housing bubble. This decline in cost was driven mostly by low interest rates. Illinois, Michigan, and New Jersey are the only three states where the cost of homeownership went up. In Illinois, the benefits of lower housing borrowing expenses were "completely canceled out by tax hikes."
The Institute has graded the transparency practices of various governmental bodies. In 2010, the Institute established an annual Sunshine Award, which recognizes city governments that are judged by the Institute to be in the top 1% for government transparency. The Institute supported legislation proposed by Illinois State Senators Martin Sandoval (D-Chicago) and Kirk Dillard (R-Westmont) to publish data on state grants to nonprofit groups in an online database of Illinois state spending. The proposed legislation did not pass.
The Institute has also drawn attention to Illinois' lack of term limits and independent redistricting, especially in critiques of House Speaker Mike Madigan, who is the longest-serving legislative leader in U.S. history. In 2016, the Institute's advocacy arm produced a feature-length documentary on the speaker entitled "Madigan: Power. Privilege. Politics." The film's trailer garnered 1.5 million views on Facebook. Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mark Brown called it "a must-see for anybody involved in Illinois politics."
Jobs and growth
The Institute has drawn attention to the trend of out-migration in Illinois. In 2015, the Institute published a study highlighting U.S. Census data to show that in 2014, the state had the second-largest net loss in the nation of people moving to other states. In 2014, the Institute debunked claims from incumbent Gov. Pat Quinn that Illinois' economy was growing jobs at a healthy pace, while pointing out that the state's declining unemployment rate was due to Illinoisans dropping out of the workforce, rather than finding jobs. The Institute has been a trusted source for Illinois news outlets in analyzing state jobs data.
In January 2015, the Liberty Justice Center filed a lawsuit against the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity for awarding millions of taxpayer dollars in excessive business tax credits to private organizations. The Institute supports eliminating the DCEO.
The Institute has produced research supporting the repeal of Illinois' prevailing wage law, which IPI found to reduce construction-sector employment and increase the cost of public projects. It has also illustrated the high cost of Illinois' workers' compensation system relative to other states.
The Institute has been part of a bipartisan coalition supporting criminal-justice reform in Illinois. In 2015, the Institute supported Illinois House Bill 218, which would decriminalize marijuana in the state. The Institute has also supported police reforms such as body cameras. In 2015, the Illinois General Assembly passed a law approving the use of police body cameras statewide. In 2016, the Institute produced a documentary on Decatur single mother Lisa Creason, who was denied the ability to seek a state license to become a registered nurse for a crime she committed decades earlier. Creason and the institute educated the public about her struggle and Senate Bill 42, which allowed ex-offenders such as Creason to acquire licenses to work in the health care field. SB 42 was signed into law in 2016 went into effect January 1, 2017.
In collaboration with the ACLU, the Institute has researched and supported the need for civil asset forfeiture reform in Illinois. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner signed House Bill 303 into law in September 2017, which enhanced protections for property owners and imposed new restrictions on government seeking to retain seized property.
In July 2013, the Institute applied through the State Policy Network for funding from the Searle Freedom Trust for a campaign to work with Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and state legislators to convert the City of Chicago's government employee pension system to a defined contribution plan system based on Institute draft legislation.
The Institute has long criticized the state's defined-benefit pension plan, arguing that promised retirement benefits have grown much faster than taxpayers' ability to pay, thus jeopardizing the state's solvency as well as government worker retirements. The group has proposed moving all new employees into a defined-contribution, 401(k)-style plan. This could be done, IPI argues, by expanding the existing defined-contribution system within the State Universities Retirement System, where nearly 20,000 workers have opted for 401(k)-style retirement plans.
The Liberty Justice Center, along with the National Right to Work Legal Defense Foundation, successfully represented Illinois state worker Mark Janus in Janus v. AFSCME at the U.S. Supreme Court . In Janus, the court ruled that state and local government workers in non-Right to Work states illegally denied workers the ability to choose whether to pay dues to a union as a condition of employment.
In 2013, the Illinois Policy institute partnered with northern Illinois mom Pam Harris, plaintiff in Harris v. Quinn, to tell the story of how she was classified as a state worker because she took a Medicaid stipend from the state to care for her son, who was born with a rare genetic disorder, and thus was forced to pay union dues to the Service Employees International Union. The Supreme Court ruled in Harris' favor in 2014, meaning thousands of home caregivers in Illinois were no longer classified as state employees, and no longer forced to pay union dues. The Liberty Justice Center successfully petitioned the state to expand this ruling to home child care providers, meaning approximately 50,000 Illinois day care providers were no longer forced to pay dues to the SEIU. The Institute initiated a campaign to educate these workers on their rights to opt out of the SEIU.
The Illinois Policy Institute has argued the level of power granted to government unions in Illinois in negotiations with state and local governments is unfair and leads to inflated costs. Its experts have proposed reforms to limit contract length, the scope of bargaining and the power to strike. This research has noted Illinois is alone among neighboring states in its lack of collective bargaining reform in any of these areas.
The Institute has advocated on behalf of Chicago match teacher and chess coach Joe Ocol, who was expelled from the Chicago Teachers Union for refusing to participate in a one-day strike in 2016, yet is still forced to pay the union. The Institute has raised over $20,000 for Ocol’s chess team at Earle STEM Academy in Englewood.
In 2015, the Illinois General Assembly passed the most competitive crowdfunding regulations in the country. Before the bill passed, the Institute played a part in educating the public about the importance of this new funding mechanism as a means for business and jobs growth. Lawmakers and media used the Institute's research when reporting on the issue.
The Institute has been involved in the effort to legalize food-cart street vending in Chicago. In 2015, the group published a study showing that legalizing the industry could bring 6,400 new jobs to the city, as well as $8.5 million in new revenue. Chicago city alderman passed an Institute-backed ordinance that overturned the city's ban on food carts on September 24, 2015. In 2012, the Institute's Liberty Justice Center sued the city of Evanston, Illinois for not allowing food trucks to vend in the city.
In 2010, then-Illinois State Senator James Meeks (D-Chicago) spoke at an Institute luncheon in support of proposed legislation to offer school vouchers to 42,000 Chicago Public School students. The bill advanced through the Illinois Senate but did not pass the Illinois House of Representatives. In 2015, the Institute produced a documentary-style video highlighting the need for school choice in Illinois, which followed a day in the life of Chicago student Jailyn Baker. Baker traveled multiple hours each day in order to attend a quality private school outside of her neighborhood.
In August 2017, IPI published a satirical cartoon depicting an African-American child begging for school money from a rich white man with his pockets turned inside-out and saying "sorry kid, I'm broke." The cartoon was a commentary on Chicago's controversial tax increment financing (TIF) districts, which, in the view of IPI, negatively affect minority schoolchildren by siphoning tax dollars to private developers. Alongside the cartoon, IPI argued that the financially struggling Chicago public school system doesn't need a state bailout because it has millions of available dollars in TIFs, which are not currently put toward education funding. The cartoon was criticized as racially insensitive by Democratic and Republican members of the Illinois Legislature and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. IPI removed the cartoon from its website and said the controversy was detracting from the central debate about education funding. An August 2017 journalist roundtable discussed the issue on WTTW's "Chicago Tonight." Panelists agreed the cartoon was not racist, and CBS 2 reporter Derrick Blakely argued there may have been political motives at play in the backlash.
Illinois has ten separate "regional development authorities", also known as RDAs. They are little-known among the public. The 10 RDAs are spread across the state in areas where it was determined that special economic development assistance was needed. The RDAs' powers come from their authority to issue bonds.
One of the RDAs, the Upper Illinois River Valley Development Authority (or UIRVDA), is led by executive Director Andrew Hamilton. Through an IPI investigation, it was uncovered that Hamilton collected nearly $1 million from UIRVDA since 2010 in executive pay ($537,499); reimbursements ($291,859); and payments to his connected business, Opportunity Alliance LLC ($128,314).
Hamilton is listed as the executive director of eight of the state's 10 RDAs. His executive pay from all eight RDAs combined from 2010 to 2018 was $1,485,668.
As a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, the Institute is not required to disclose its donors. Bruce Rauner, at the time chairman of the Chicago-based private equity firm GTCR, donated $525,000 to the Institute between 2008 and 2013. He has not contributed to IPI since 2013.
In 2014, Hilary Gowins, managing editor of IPI's blog, earned the group's first Lisagor Award. IPI policy analyst Bryant Jackson-Green and Liberty Justice Center senior attorney Jacob Huebert both won Lisagor Awards in 2015. Gowins won another Lisagor Award for her Huffington Post blog in 2016. And in 2017, IPI director of content strategy Austin Berg won two Lisagor Awards.
In 2015, the Illinois Policy Institute's advocacy arm, Illinois Policy Action, won PR News' "Nonprofit PR Award" in the category "advocacy campaign and lobbying efforts" for its 2014 campaign in favor of Illinois' "fair, flat tax." IPI was also a runner-up in the "blog" category for its feature, "Dewonked." 
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- Official website
- Illinois Policy Institute Profile at the National Center for Charitable Statistics of the Urban Institute
- Articles about the Illinois Policy Institute at the Chicago Tribune