Perception isn’t necessarily reality, but it sure shapes political reality.
So it is that some downstaters are resentful of the big city up north and want to create a separate state apart from Cook County and Chicago.
So it is that equally resentful Chicagoans believe downstaters get a bigger piece of the state’s tax-revenue pie than they deserve.
As a consequence of those attitudes that are prominently on display in Illinois politics, two political scientists at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale decided to examine tax-collection and -disbursement figures to see which side had the better part of the argument.
The study examines the 2013-16 budget years and revenue collection/disbursement numbers provided by the General Assembly’s Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability.
Professors John Jackson and John Foster concluded that Cook County has a minor beef about not getting a big-enough return on the sales and income taxes its residents paid, while downstate residents have no complaint at all. Based on what downstate regions pay in taxes versus what they get back in public dollars, they are hands-down winners.
Cook County comes out nearly even, receiving 98 cents back for each $1 paid in income and sales taxes.
It’s the five suburban counties — Lake, McHenry, Kane, DuPage and Will — that take a beating. They get back roughly 60 cents for every $1 paid.
Four downstate regions got back an average of $1.70 for each dollar they paid in sales and income taxes. The deepest 19-county region in Southern Illinois received $2.88 for every $1 residents paid.
The professors’ study, prepared for the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, focused on “taxing, revenue and pubic budgeting” in Illinois and seeks to address widespread concerns that taxpayers’ money “disproportionately benefit(s) one region over the other.”
The question involves the issue of “fair share,” whether government funds are equitably distributed. But that means different things to different people.
“One possibility is that fair means ‘equal.’ Another is fair means ‘Our region should get more from the state since we have greater needs,’” Jackson and Foster write.
Conceding that the question of fair share “cannot be resolved with budgetary data,” they argue it is “quite clear that downstate taxes are not being disproportionately siphoned off and spent in the City of Chicago.”
Key to the public’s perception about distribution of tax dollars is the public’s negative perception of state government.
Illinoisans from all regions overwhelmingly feel state government pays “not much” attention to public attitudes when “it decides what to do.” A solid majority feels state government doesn’t “represent your community’s values.”
An outgrowth of those attitudes is the widespread suspicion that the General Assembly does not “distribute government resources equally across rural, urban and suburbans areas of the area.”
Most notable among the catalogue of resentments is that the least resentful citizens of Illinois are those living in the relatively affluent Chicago suburbs.
Jackson and Foster said they were not surprised by what they called “rural resentment” — “downstate voters are the most alienated and disenchanted with their lot from state government” — but “we did not entirely anticipate” the “extent to which Chicago voters shared this disenchantment.”
They suggest Illinois may be too big and its 102 counties too different to be anything but at odds with itself.
“The leaders of other states celebrate their state’s history, culture, accomplishments and promote state pride. They have at least one major state university athletic team or professional sports franchise that is the pride of most fans statewide no matter what their regional differences. That is not the tradition in Illinois,” they write.
Instead, they write that the tradition in Illinois involves a series of regions represented by politicians who stoke competition with and resentment of other regions.
Describing Chicago as the economic engine of the state, the professors argue that those who support dividing Illinois into two or more states would leave downstate an economic laggard.
They say Cook County and
the five suburban counties “would start with 73 percent of total state gross domestic product.” Meanwhile, they say, the 19 southernmost counties “would be the poorest in the nation, ranking only ahead of territories such as Samoa and Puerto Rico.”
Jim Dey, a member of The News-
Gazette staff, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 217-393-8251.