Posted Online: Dec. 04, 2011, 6:00 am
Editorial: Chicago 51st state?
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The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus
Free Illinois! Divorce Chicago!
Admit it, you've probably had such thoughts cross your mind a time or two as you've watched politicians in Chicago leave their nasty fingerprints all over Illinois government.
With our constitutional offices, the governor's mansion and the Legislature under the heel of Chicago Democrats today, the disconnect on the part of the rest of the state has grown exponentially. Thanks to the ethical problems clouding politics and the irresponsible economic policies of the past pushing us to the brink of fiscal calamity, the urge to blame Chicagoland is all but overwhelming; its leaders' failure to even comprehend the depth of the problem dismaying. Indeed, sometimes it seems as though Chicago pols are from a different planet, let alone another state. But we suspect few of us would go so far as to file for divorce. The social and economic fallout from that messy dissolution would be disastrous for both the City of Big Shoulders and every other corner of the state.
So we were surprised to learn that Decatur area Republican Reps. Bill Mitchell and Adam Brown are calling for just that, citing "irreconcilable differences" between the city and downstate. When we first heard about turning Cook County into America's 51st state, we thought they were kidding. But after viewing a press conference conducted by the pair (http://www.wandtv.com/story/16104961/mitchell-brown-call-for-creation-of-new-state) we must conclude otherwise. "When I talk to constituents, one of the biggest things I hear is 'Chicago should be its own state,"' Rep. Mitchell said. "Downstate families are tired of Chicago dictating its views to the rest of us."
The Chicago vs. downstate economic and social divide has been evident for as long as that city has been Illinois' largest. But we have never heard of anyone formally introducing a measure to separate the two, until now. House Joint Resolution 52 calls for Cook County to become one state and the other 101 counties to become another.
Why not get a divorce?
A divided state of Illinois would leave Cook County with roughly 5.3 million citizens and Illinois with 7.6 million. Sponsors say, not only would Illinois be larger than a State of Chicago, it would be bigger than Indiana. "Take a look at Indiana," Rep. Mitchell said. "Their population is similar to the new Illinois we are proposing. But there are some fundamental differences between Indiana and Illinois as it exists now: Indiana doesn't have a budget deficit; they haven't raised taxes to pay for more government spending; they have a lower unemployment rate than Illinois. And what's the biggest difference? Indiana doesn't have Chicago."
No, it doesn't and it suffers for it. No offense to our friends in the Hoosier state, but becoming Indiana is hardly a step up. Quick, what do you think of when you hear Indiana? The Colts, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and ... little else. Texas has the Cowboys but we wouldn't want to be them, either. Indiana also is hardly awash in national influence. Thanks in large part to Chicago, we are.
Of course we share the duo's frustration with the state of the state, but a divorce won't solve anything. And quite frankly, making it happen is just about impossible. The resolution would require preliminary approval by both the Illinois House and Senate, Congress and President Obama, who is not just an Illinoisan, but a Chicagoan.
As in most divorces, money would be a major sticking point: For example, which of the two states would absorb Illinois' huge debt? And speaking of money, the presence of Chicago means jobs and federal cash.
A lot of our identity also is wrapped up in the Windy City. So is our economy. Jim Nowlan, a senior fellow at the Institute of Government and Public Affairs whose column appears on these pages every Monday, understands Chicago's importance to Illinois. "We operate in the penumbra, or shadow, of Chicago, which serves as the hub city of the whole Midwest," he wrote recently. "When metro Chicago does well, the whole state tends to do better as well. State tax revenues go up, and more goods and services flow both directions between our own cities and farms and Chicagoland. When that region prospers, jobs are created for young people who maybe can't find jobs in rural areas."
He's right. Beyond economics, a lot of who we are is wrapped up in that "toddlin' town," a beautiful city that strives to someday be an cosmopolitan one.
Chicago may not be Rep. Brown or Mitchell's kind of town, but she is ours. And, for all her faults, we simply cannot afford to lose her.