Separatist legislator has 'pants on fire'

BGA finds lies on government funding being spread by state Rep. Halbrook

In a bid to sew divisions between Chicago and downstate, state Rep. Brad Halbrook has been spreading lies that have long been debunked. (Twitter/Brad Halbrook)

In a bid to sew divisions between Chicago and downstate, state Rep. Brad Halbrook has been spreading lies that have long been debunked. (Twitter/Brad Halbrook)

By Ted Cox

A Shelbyville state representative who’d like to see Chicago split off as a state of its own is a liar on government funding to the point of having his “pants on fire,” according to a prominent government watchdog.

State Rep. Brad Halbrook has sponsored a resolution in the General Assembly calling on Congress to split off the city of Chicago from Illinois as the 51st state. His HR101 “urges the United States Congress to declare the city of Chicago the 51st state of the United States of America and separate it from the rest of Illinois,” citing as partial evidence that “Chicago is often bailed out by taxpayers in the rest of the state, such as the $221 million bailout for the (Chicago Public Schools) pension system that was signed into law last year.”

The Better Government Association rated that claim of a “Chicago bailout” on the statewide school funding bill “false” when former Gov. Rauner said it at the time, and Wednesday it found that Halbrook’s repeating it in the face of experts calling it a “myth,” “total nonsense,” and “clearly not true” earned him a rating of “pants on fire” on the truth scale.

For those not familiar with the schoolyard chant, the label stems from the childhood rhyme: “Liar, liar, pants on fire.”

The BGA story suggested that Halbrook well knew the charge was false. The Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University Carbondale put out a report last summer finding that southern Illinois was the most subsidized area of the state, getting back $2.81 for every dollar paid in taxes, closely followed central Illinois, including Halbrook’s hometown of Shelbyville, which gets back $1.87 on the dollar. Chicago’s Cook County, meanwhile, gets back 80 cents on the dollar, and its suburban collar counties fare even worse, getting back 53 cents on the dollar.

So Halbrook’s claims of a “Chicago bailout” would be comical — alongside the resolution’s citations that western Illinois has previously declared itself the “Republic of Forgottonia” and its reference to a “Southern Illinois Secession Movement” — if they weren’t also so damaging to the state and intentionally divisive politically.

As the Simon Policy Institute report pointed out, sewing divisions between Chicago and the rest of the state is a tried and true political ploy. The study attributed that to "a great deal of political rhetoric and folklore that is widely accepted and heard repeatedly in almost every political campaign in the regions," adding, "It is quite clear that downstate taxes are not being disproportionately siphoned off and spent in the city of Chicago."

It pointedly added: “If the mass public does not believe in what are objectively provable facts, this ignorance corrupts the political discourse and makes the adoption of rational, evidence-based public policy very problematic.”

But that perhaps is Halbrook’s intent.

In a “guest commentary” published Sunday in the Champaign News-Gazette, Halbrook backed off his claims of a “Chicago bailout” and unfair state funding, although he did muddy the waters by pointing out the Simon study included funding for downstate universities like the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in its regional breakdown — ignoring, of course, that schools like UIUC and SIU provide a great deal of the economic vitality to their regions and are an undeniable benefit to the surrounding communities.

Instead, he railed against “intrusive and overreaching Chicago-style regulations that demean our way of life, destroy our economies, and devalue our culture.” He took issue with what the resolution lists as “gun ownership, abortion, immigration, and other policy issues” where more conservative residents downstate differ from those in Chicago and its suburbs.

True enough, but the fact remains that Illinois is one state with one set of state laws that have to apply equally to the city, the suburbs, and rural communities, and to suggest otherwise is to undermine the political system.

Again, that’s perhaps what Halbrook wants to achieve, but when it comes to separating off the state’s prime economic engine in Chicago from the rest of Illinois, he should be careful what he wishes for.