*This story is part two of a four-part series examining the movements to separate the City of Chicago from the rest of the state of Illinois. This story is dedicated to some of the financial aspects of such a move.
Amongst the claims lobbied in the movements to remove Chicago from the state of Illinois is that the tax monies collected from other parts of the state, southern Illinois in particular, are being improperly distributed to Cook County.
A study conducted just over one year ago, The Politics of Public Budgeting in Illinois, attempted to track the spending of state monies by region, in an effort to test the theory that tax dollars from portions of the state far removed from Chicago were being taken in by the state’s largest city.
The figures from the study showed that Cook County receiving 90 cents for every tax dollar contributed, the five “Collar Counties” surrounding Cook receiving 53 cents per dollar contributed and the remaining 96 counties receiving $1.69 per dollar contributed. It further broke down those 96 counties into four distinct regions, with the southern most 19 counties receiving $2.81 per dollar taxed.
There have been criticisms levied against the study claiming that significant funding was not included in the study, as only 80 percent of tax revenue and 71 percent of expenditures were calculated into the base numbers used to conduct it.
“We certainly did not ‘cherry pick’ our data,” said John Jackson, Emeritus Professor of Political Science, Visiting Professor at the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale and co-author of the study in question. “…Our paper is based on the most comprehensive and reliable data set available.”
Professor John Foster, also of SIU Carbondale, co-authored the paper as well.
The origin of the numbers used in the study came from data assembled by the Legislative Research Unit of the Illinois General Assembly. The organization extrapolated the data from a single fiscal year for the state, FY2013. The July 2018 study justified the use of the data presented by the LRU by drawing comparisons between fiscal years 2013 and 2018, such as various tax rates at the state level.
But some amongst the movements to uncouple Chicago from the rest of the state, such as New Illinois Chairman G.H. Merritt, cited concerns not involving the age of the data, but some of the data points themselves.
“My problems concern state prisons and state universities located outside of Cook County being counted as ‘money going downstate’ when these institutions serve the whole state,” said Merritt. “And more than 50 percent of inmates are from Cook County.”
According to data obtained from the Illinois Department of Corrections website, there were 39,181 inmates locked in state facilities as of June 30. Of those inmates, 18,078 originated in Cook County. Those figures do not include the roughly 6,000 inmates housed in the Cook County Jail, as it is not a state facility.
According to a report, Re-Entry Housing Issues in Illinois, released late last month by the Metropolitan Planning Council and the Illinois Justice Department, it costs the state $38,000 per year to house a prisoner in a state-run prison, and $52,000 per year to house inmates in the Cook County Jail, theoretically saving the state $14,000 per year, or approximately $1,166 per month, for each prisoner sent outside of Cook County.
If those inmates were to be housed in Cook County, assuming the space existed to do so, that would have amounted to $21,078,948 in state dollars not attributed to portions of the state outside of Cook County for the month of June alone.
But Jackson’s focus in the discussion was on the economic impact of state monies, rather than the disbursement ratio of said dollars.
“This is a measurement of economic activity and impact,” Jackson stated. “The money that the state sends to a university or a prison is spent in that county and surrounding counties by and large.”
Jackson’s argument is that the money sent from Springfield to the downstate counties is spent within local economies, and therefore benefits those communities.
“The money goes to pay faculty, staff, supplies, services, etc. where the institution is located,” he explained. “The fact that either students or prisoners may have originated in Chicago is beside the point of counties economic impact of state spending.”
Jackson also explained that other potential economic factors, such as student spending on housing, food and entertainment, were not able to be tracked as part of the study.
Merritt also noted what she felt was another major omission from the study.
“Also, the report doesn’t include transportation, and that’s a big deal.”
The study does acknowledge the lack of transportation dollars, though Jackson did note the inclusion of the Motor Fuel Tax.
“However, we do have the sales tax on the gasoline included, since those dollars go to the general fund,” said Jackson. “On the distribution of the Motor Fuel Tax dollars, the allocation includes highway miles plus some other variables.”
Despite those transportation funds proving too difficult to track in their entirety, Jackson argued that the greater number of state-owned roadways downstate had to equate to a greater amount of funding being spent outside of Cook County.
“There are far more miles of state and federal highways downstate than in Chicago,” he said. “The money is spent on the maintenance of the highways, and occasionally for building some limited number of new miles.
“There is just no way that Chicago is getting more than ‘it’s share’ of those tax dollars.”
Outside of the scope of the study, Merritt also cites state government mandates, which place additional costs such as prevailing wage, workman’s compensation rates and state-crafted retirement benefit plans as costs placed on local municipalities through state politicians.
“Many economic obstacles the rest of the state lives with currently have been imposed by the Cook dominated state government,” she explained.
But perhaps the most critical economic question regarding any potential separation from Cook County involves those five counties surrounding it. Referred to as suburban counties in the Jackson/Foster study, the counties of DuPage, Kane, Lake, McHenry and Will comprised 28.6 percent of the state’s revenue against just 14.7 percent of its expenditures tracked by the LRU in FY13, bringing in $8,024,505 and getting back $3,738,956 in state monies, according to the study.
“That’s where I live, so I don’t want to get left behind,” joked Merritt. “I believe that politically and economically, the best case scenario for a state split is to have as much as possible of the other 101 counties to be a part of it, because there is strength in numbers.
“(There is) no doubt there is a lot of wealth in the Collar Counties.”
While Merritt admits some portions of the counties in question, such as southeastern Lake County, would likely want to remain linked with neighboring Cook, other parts of the area may be more willing to separate than some realize.
“On the other hand, I’ve received calls from people on the western fringe of Cook County who want to be part of a new state.”
In the meantime, some critics of the Jackson/Foster study have stated that they are working on a more comprehensive study, which they say will include some of the factors unable to be included in the 2018 study.
“We are confident that our generalizations hold up and are essentially accurate,” said Jackson of his study. “We look forward to seeing the results of any analysis this group may come up with.”