A popular belief is that when it comes to state funding, Chicago gets all the public money. But a recent study found, that downstate counties, for the most part, get back more than what they send to Springfield.
For example, for every $1 St. Clair County sends to state coffers, it receives $1.13 back. Madison County receives $1.10 back.
In the rural counties, it’s even more. Clinton County gets $2.42 back, and $3.08 is returned to Randolph County for every dollar it sends, according to the study. Only Monroe County receives less, getting 49 cents back for every dollar in taxes it pays.
Most southwestern Illinois counties receive more in state general fund money than they send to state coffers, according to the recently released analysis by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
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The money typically comes in the form of state aid for public school districts, as well as funding for downstate prisons, mental health facilities, Medicaid and community colleges and universities.
The institute looked at, among other things, the perception about whether the state does a good job at distributing government resources, and how those dollars are allocated.
Researchers found that there is a perception that Chicago gets more than its fair share of money, and the state does not do a good job at distributing government resources equally across rural, urban and suburban areas.
In reality, Chicago only gets 80 cents back for every dollar it puts in. The suburban collar counties fare even worse, with DuPage County getting back only 31 cents.
The study looked at income tax data by county as well as sales tax revenue, lottery sales, state aid to schools and community college, higher education expenditures, state operations and local governments.
Study authors excluded revenue from motor fuel taxes, vehicle license fees, tollways and expenditures for capital projects.
Included in the study was polling data by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, which found there is a common belief that rural areas get less than their fair share and suburban areas get more than their fair share. The study found 55 percent of people in Chicago believe urban areas get less than their fair share.
“The downstate voters are the most alienated or disenchanted with their lot from state government as compared to their peers in the other two regions in the state,” the study said.
Former Governor Jim Edgar, a Republican who served from 1991-99, said he wasn’t surprised by the study’s findings and said it’s been true for years.
“Downstate gets more money than they send to Springfield. Chicago doesn’t get quite as much, but who really pays the most is the suburbs,” Edgar said. “They don’t get as much money back and they pay more money. ... (They’re) wealthier both in income and property value.”
Downstate Illinois benefits from the state tax and spend mix, the study wrote. “The 96 downstate counties, as a group, receive about 50 percent more in state spending than they contribute in tax revenue.
“The lower income regions of Illinois as a whole are receiving significantly more in state expenditures than they contribute in taxes,” the study wrote. “Indeed in the most southern region, there would be very little economic activity at all without the state.”
The state’s school funding formula is based on the financial need of the students and local districts, said state Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton.
He added downstate communities have a higher Medicaid participation and wasn’t surprised downstate communities get more back than what they pay in.
“Poorer communities and students get a little more funding than the ones that are (better) off,” Costello said.
He said he was surprised Monroe didn’t get as much back.
“I work very hard to make sure Southern Illinois receives its fair share, and gets what it’s due. This is something I will be trying to address,” Costello said.
He did say, however, that Monroe County residents do better per capita. It was listed as one of the top 10 wealthiest counties in the state. Incomes are higher in the county, which is predominantly a bedroom community that also has an agricultural base, Costello said.
Monroe County also doesn’t have large state facilities, such as in Randolph County, where there is Menard Correction Center and a mental health facility. But State Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, argues economically, the county is doing well.
“It’s one of the few counties that’s growing in my district,” Schimpf said.
Schimpf disagreed with the notion that Southern Illinois people are upset with Chicago based off of how much money that region receives.
Schimpf, who reminds people that most of the state lives north of Interstate 80, said he wasn’t surprised that Southern Illinois gets more money than it gets, but disagrees with the assessment of why there is resentment by downstate for the people up north.
He said the resentment comes from Southern Illinois having different values, such as on abortion rights and Second Amendment rights, and that most policies from the Chicago-dominated Legislature have negative effects on Southern Illinois. Also, most of the legislative leadership has been from the Chicago area.
Schimpf said he had one criticism of the study:
“It oversimplifies things. It takes this mistaken belief, which there is a mistaken perception out there, but it blames it on politicians spreading misinformation,” Schimpf said. “I think there are a lot of other reasons people are resentful toward Chicago.”
Edgar, the former governor, said both parts of the state need each other, as farmers are in rural areas, and the Chicago area has the board of trade and major food manufacturers.
“There’s a correlation between them and downstate where you grow a lot of the grains, and it’s a very important combination,” Edgar said. “A lot of products that are produced downstate are transported out of the Chicago area.”
The idea that a big urban area gets all the benefits isn’t unique to Illinois, Edgar said.
“In any big state, the rural areas always view some trepidation to the large city. I’ll tell you in my experience, probably downstate worries about Chicago a lot more than Chicago worries about downstate,” Edgar said.
Most of the money goes into programs that are based on need, and there are more poor areas downstate as well as in the city of Chicago, compared with the Chicago suburbs.
“That’s why moneywise they don’t do as well as downstate does in terms of getting state dollars back,” he said.
Edgar also said regionalism within the state doesn’t help.
“People in leadership have got to realize there’s got to be a balance. They’ve got to explain it to people. I think downstate legislators and downstate politicians have to stop using the ‘it’s all Chicago’s fault,’” Edgar said. “I think Chicago folks have to understand there are unique problems in rural downstate that have to be addressed. Again it’s not always money. They need to be concerned about that.”
The revenue and disbursements in the study are from 2013, said John Jackson, one of the study’s authors. But he said the pattern of how money is distributed has been in place for a long time.
“State budgeting is just incremental. It changes at the margins every year, but it doesn’t change fundamentally in those big categories of distributions,” Jackson said.