New England’s six states are home to 14.4 million people. Their combined size is about 72,000 square miles, a bit bigger than Washington, according to Wikipedia. They get lumped together all the time. Should we just merge them into one big state?
It’s incredibly unlikely, I know. But Jon Chesto of The Patriot Ledger in Quincy, Mass., put the idea in my head earlier this fall when he published a column in the wake of the 38 Studios deal bemoaning how the New England states are so often in conflict when it comes to their economies:
Sure, there are some border wars that will never go away. New Hampshire probably won’t stop stealing Massachusetts shoppers for as long as we have any kind of sales tax here. But there are many ways in which working with our neighbors can pay off when trying to attract support from Washington or solving a shared problem back home. It shouldn’t have to take a big corporate merger to remind us of that fact.
Chesto wasn’t suggesting anything as radical as a merger, but others have.
In the 1930s, Connecticut Gov. Wilbur Cross suggested New England should “break down these artificial barriers and merge our six States into one of respectable area” to save money. Cross was “violently shouted down,” John Gunther later wrote, but his proposal did help nudge the states’ governors to start meeting on a regular basis.
The historian Frederick Jackson Turner went even further. He “envisaged the day when New England, New York, and Pennsylvania would merge into a unit dominated by vested interests and ally itself with the North Central states,” leading to an inevitable clash between different regions, according to his biographer.
One downside to a merger that comes to mind right away is the loss of 10 out of the region’s 12 U.S. senators, since each state only gets two. That would be a severe dilution of the region’s power vis-a-vis the federal government. It’s also possible to imagine a compromise whereby the state governments would still exist in some form, but with a new layer of merged-state government on top of them – not exactly a boost to efficiency, that, and it could lead to the same issues Britain has faced since devolving power to Scotland and Wales.
Moreover, merging the six states into one wouldn’t do anything to alter the structure of New England’s city and town governments, which are uniquely powerful here compared with other parts of the country. “The structure of local government in New England states evolved earlier than that in most other states, and continues to differ,” University of Illinois Professor Richard Dye wrote in a 2008 paper for the Boston Fed that examined the growing fiscal challenges facing cities and towns across the region.
Still, you never know what could happen. Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820 – maybe when they mark the 200th anniversary of Maine’s independence a decade from now, they’ll decide it’s time to get back together.
(map credit: National Atlas, via Wikipedia)