Should Chicago and Southern Illinois split? New research says no

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ST. LOUIS, Mo. – The choice to separate Chicago and the northern Illinois suburbs from the rest of the state has been showing up more frequently on ballots in the state. New research from Southern Illinois University shows why that may not be a great idea.

There is a misconception that the rest of the state sends their tax dollars to support Chicago. John Foster, a former member of Southern Illinois University’s political science faculty, tells the Herald-Review that is not true. The research shows that downstate Illinois gets more funding for every dollar spent on taxes than any other part of the state.

“With four years of data over very different budgetary conditions, it is quite clear that downstate taxes are not being disproportionately siphoned off and spent in the city of Chicago,” the research paper states.

The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute is a think tank researches controversial issues impacting the state and the nation and this is not the first time they have tackled this topic. The first paper was published in 2018 and this is the second edition.

A Simon Institute poll from February 2020 asked if Illinois should be divided into two states. One composed of Chicago and the rest composed of downstate. Democrats largely rejected the idea while it has support from about half of Illinois Republicans. Here are the general results:

2020 Poll: Divide Illinois?

  • Strongly Favor – 19%
  • Somewhat Favor – 9%
  • Somewhat Oppose – 12%
  • Strongly Oppose – 54%
  • Other/Don’t Know – 6%

“This question has provoked a long debate in Illinois, and it is one of the key questions influencing budgeting, and most notably, the raising of revenue in the state. The distinctive backdrop for this analysis is the two-year stalemate over the state’s budget from 2015-2017, which did lasting damage to the state and the continuing questions over what Illinois should do next regarding taxes and spending,” states the paper’s abstract.

The second edition of “The Politics of Public Budgeting in Illinois” has been updated with new data and now includes public opinion data. It reveals the deep cultural, partisan, ideological, and geographic divisions within the state.

“This downstate mistrust and ire are aimed at Chicago since it is by far the largest, the most prosperous, and the most powerful part of the state,” excerpt from The Politics of Public Budgeting in Illinois.

Would the math change if southern Illinois joined another state? Jersey County board member Eric Ivers floated the idea of moving the state border in June. He wants to make Jersey County part of Missouri.

The result probably would not be much different than being part of a state with a large city like Chicago or St. Louis. The rural and urban divide seems to charge a lot of political discussions in many states. But, the research indicates that there may be something different going on in Illinois.

“What is different or at least exaggerated in Illinois, however, is the extent to which many Illinois leaders emphasize, exploit and exacerbate these regional differences for their own advantage. This strategy of running against Chicago is one of the most tried and true political strategies in Illinois politics; or alternatively, running against the major leaders of Chicago. As the original example, Mayor Richard J. Daley and the Daley Machine in his day were always a staple for downstate candidates to target their ire against,” states the research.

So the split keeps getting put into Facebook groups and proposed by legislators. In 2019 GOP state Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer submitted a proposal in 2019 that would urge U.S. Congress to make the nation’s third-largest city its own state. These maneuvers may not ever materialize but they do influence voters and spark more controversial social media posts.

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