THE BLOG

Is Illinois Raking in Taxes from Your County?

05/22/2014 10:28 am ET | Updated Jul 22, 2014
  • Reboot Illinois A non-partisan organization dedicated to involving Illinois residents in the state's political process

Illinois taxes by geography

Source: Illinois Department of Revenue

In late 2011, State Rep. Bill Mitchell, R-Decatur, introduced a bill to lop Cook County off of Illinois. The bill said, in essence, that Cook County was very liberal while the rest of the state leaned conservative, and both sides should be allowed to go their own way politically. The bill didn't give much consideration to where the money comes from that makes Illinois what it is.

From the bill:

WHEREAS, The State of Illinois is functional to the extent that its people agree on politics, society, and economics; and WHEREAS, The people who constitute a majority of Cook County and the people who constitute a majority of the other 101 counties in Illinois hold different and firmly seated views on these important questions; and WHEREAS, Cook County, on one hand, and the other 101 counties, on the other, are each roughly equal in population; and WHEREAS, Both groups should enjoy the chance to govern themselves with their firmly seated values...

And from there it used Maine's secession in 1820 from Massachusetts ("WHEREAS, This arrangement did not work very well and Massachusetts agreed to the secession in a law approved by the Governor of Massachusetts on June 19, 1819...") as a model for Illinois' split into Cook County and what we will call "The Rest of Illinois."

When you're in the minority party en route to becoming the super-minority party in less than a year (as happened to the Republicans the following November) and you're about to mark a decade of Chicago Democrats holding most of the top elected offices in the state, this kind of bill has some appeal. It arrived a little more than a year after Gov. Pat Quinn won a narrow victory by carrying just four Illinois' 102 counties, one of which was Cook. (The others were Madison, Jackson and Alexander in southern Illinois. Quinn got just shy of 50,000 votes from those counties; he won by 31,834 votes, a margin of victory of .85 percentage points.)

Unfortunately for the secessionists, a Cook-free Illinois wouldn't exactly be the Illinois we now know. The one with major, state-funded public universities in Champaign-Urbana, DeKalb, Macomb, Charleston, Carbondale, Bloomington-Normal and Springfield. The one with state facilities throughout downstate that employ thousands of downstate workers. The one that makes state government the second largest employer in Sangamon County, where the state capital is located.

A Huffington Post report summed it up:

What would be the economic impact of Cook County seceding from the rest of the state of Illinois? As of 2010, the gross state product of Illinois overall was $652 million. The Chicago area's gross metropolitan product is $532 billion. As CBS Chicago points out, Illinois is home to about 12.8 million residents, of whom 5.2 million, roughly 40 percent, live in Cook County. 

A Chicago Reader columnist was more blunt:

 I think it'd work out for both sides. We'd get most of the people, material possessions, and things that make life worth living. You'd get a state free of us.

It's budget time right now in Springfield, and this year lawmakers are arguing over whether to make permanent the temporary tax increase passed in 2011. The tax debate makes this year's budget talks all the more contentious. If the Democratically controlled House and Senate vote to grant their Democratic governor's tax wish, you can expect some secession talk to emerge.
Keep the graphic above in mind when it does.

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