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Gov. Pritzker says he's ‘disappointed’ Madison County will vote on secession referendum

Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker speaks during a press conference on the Healthcare Protection Act on Monday, April 22, 2024, at Memorial Hospital Belleville Orthopedic & Neurosciences Center in Belleville.
Eric Lee
St. Louis Public Radio
"The idea that someplace in Illinois wants to kick out another place in Illinois should not be on the ballot,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker criticized the Madison County Board’s decision to place a symbolic advisory referendum on the November ballot that will ask voters if the Metro East county should explore separating from the Chicago area.

"The idea that someplace in Illinois wants to kick out another place in Illinois should not be on the ballot,” the second-term Democrat said at an unrelated event in Pontoon Beach on Thursday. ”It shouldn't be something that's part of a lexicon and discussion of politicians. We're one state."

Local proponents of secession generally object to Illinois progressive statewide politics largely driven by the vast population of Chicago and its suburbs.

Madison and neighboring Jersey County are the latest in the downstate area to take up the action, which carries no true power. The Madison County Board approved holding the referendum last month, and Jersey — home to Grafton, Jerseyville and Pere Marquette State Park — approved putting its measure to a vote earlier this month.

The southwestern Illinois counties could be the 27th and 28th in the state to take the action. Political observers and legal experts say secession is far-fetched because both the Illinois General Assembly and Congress would need to approve.

Pritzker said he was disappointed to see the Madison County Board’s vote.

“I simply want to remind everyone here that we are one Illinois,” he said. “Madison County is just as important to our state as Chicago is. It’s also, frankly, too easy to let partisanship and regional differences divide us.”

Supporters of the secession movement acknowledge the unlikely nature of secession, but they argue the nonbinding referendum can act as a formal poll or survey of downstate’s disapproval of Illinois’ politics.

“This is the single most democratic move that any group of concerned citizens can make,” said advocate Dave Stopher of Troy after last month’s vote in Madison County. “It’s to ask the people their opinion. That’s all we’re asking.”

Inside a Madison County Board meeting on April 17, 2024, where the board voted in favor of a referendum on whether or not to allow a symbolic vote for Madison County to secede from Cook County and the state of Illinois.
Joshua Carter
Belleville News-Democrat
The Madison County Board voted 15-7 in favor of the symbolic referendum on April 1. It will ask voters if should explore separating from Cook County and Illinois.

New Madison County Transit headquarters

Elected officials and local leaders unveiled a new administration building for Madison County Transit in Pontoon Beach on Thursday.

Construction on the $14.7 million building started in late 2022, and crews recently completed their work, said S.J. Morrison, the managing director of Madison County Transit.

“It was really about 20 years ago that MCT boards and staff dreamed about a facility that we could all work in one building — where we would not have staff working above garages, where we would have staff working in offices in spaces that were intended to be offices,” Morrison said. “We are thrilled.”

The construction project received a $4.4 million grant via Rebuild Illinois, a legislative priority of Pritzker’s that the legislature passed in 2019. The legislation funneled $33 billion to replace and improve aging infrastructure across the state over six years.

Morrison said Madison County Transit, largely known for its bus services and network of bike trails, had obtained grants over the years for the new building. However, Rebuild Illinois got the construction over the finish line.

The remainder of the project drew funding from a previous $6 million state grant, $4.1 from the Federal Transit Administration and $206,000 in local match.

“Today is about dedicating a building and securing our campus — but it’s also about building a stronger region and securing the future for residents, regardless of their income or abilities,” Morrison said.

Will Bauer is the Metro East reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.