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Sunday, January 20, 2008

Fixing Illinois

Jack Davis has a nice piece in the Chicago Tribune about the mass transit funding bill that saved the Chicago area from a transit doomsday. And he rightfully says it didn't go far enough, but disagree with him on where the fixes need to be centered.

Jack, and the non-profit group he works for Chicago Metropolis 2020, like many in Springfield believe that the only way Illinois as a state can be great is to make Chicago better, and have the greatness spread. I say they are all blind, and ignore the fact that we've been trying that since the state was formed, and it's not working.

Instead, a "spread the weath" formula needs to be developed. While the 2020 groups contention that faster rail would make folks more likely to use it has merit, so does the idea that a non-Chicagocentric system for the RTA would help. Making it easier to get from Points A and B, without going through Chicago, or close to it would help. Metropolis 2020 ignores the fact that a lot of the traffic on Chicago freeways isn't going to Chicago, it's going somewhere less well served by our current transit structure.

One of the downsides to the current transit structure is that is makes it nearly impossible for the collar counties to develop their own transit systems, the money they have for it is already tied up in the bloated RTA, CTA, Pace, Metra system leaving little for regional transport outside of Chicago.

Chicago Metropolis 2020 points out that the number of trucks jamming the roads is part of the problem. Easing truck congestion is much easier than anyone will admit, because it doesn't fit in the "Chicago First" mold. Rockford has an excellent airport that is tossed occasional bones in cargo transit, but is basically locked out of becoming a major regional hub by O'Hare contracts. The same is true of major brand airlines trying to fly from Rockford. Anything that takes away from idea of O'Hare as the epicenter of Northern Illinois transit is looked on as bad, and whispers of punishment from the O'Hare folks shut down the idea quickly.

DeKalb and Rockford both have the rail, road and air transport facilities to reduce the congestion in the O'Hare area, and Chicago area as a whole, but have been, through state and regional actions, hampered in developing them to their full potential. Both area also closer to other states time and distance wise than Chicago, and could be used to attract business from them, growing Illinois, but the same groups that want to grow Illinois by making Chicago better ignore methods that would grow Illinois anywhere but Chicago.

So, how does this get fixed? Well this year Illinois has the chance to vote on holding a Constitutitional Convention to rewrite or Amend the State Constitution. Changing Article IV of the State Constitution to change the makeup of the state legislature would be a good start. Currently the makeup is completely population based, with 59 districts, each providing one Senator and 2 Assembly members. Because over 65% of the states population is located in Cook County and it's "collar counties" both houses of our the legislature are disproportionately representative of that area, making everything else in the state second rate as far as the legislature is concerned.

A good change would be to make the Legislature more like the Federal Government. The Assembly could be made slightly bigger, by coming up with 70-75 districts based on population, with 2 members from each. However, the Senate could be based on Counties instead of population, with 1 Senator from each of the 102 counties. By giving equal voice to all of the counties in one branch of the legislature we'd be able to mitigate some of the Chicago First mentality, and maybe, just maybe, grow the whole state from different angles, instead of hoping growth radiates from an overgrown and overburdened epicenter.

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