Political Rewind: Illinois' Job Picture Worsening

It's always good to be caught up on state politics. Here's an easy guide to what happened this week.

Editor's Note: This article was created by aggregating news articles from Illinois Statehouse News that were written by various Illinois Statehouse News reporters.

Illinois: Job picture worsening

It’s clear that finding or keeping a job in Illinois is getting tougher, but it is much less clear as to why.

Illinois’ July unemployment numbers show that the state is bleeding jobs. The state’s unemployment rate jumped from 9.1 percent in June to 9.5 percent, with Illinois losing 24,900 jobs.

“The question is why, and that’s something that we’re trying to answer,” said Greg Rivara, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

Illinois’ unemployment rate has been higher. In October 2010, the jobless rate reached 9.6 percent.Gov. Pat Quinn has applauded Illinois’ economic recovery, pointing to months of decline in the jobless rate.Illinois’ unemployment rate fell from 11.2 percent in January 2010 to 8.7 percent in April 2010. But May, June and now July of this year have seen the rate rise.

Jay Shattuck, a business consultant and lobbyist who works with the Illinois Chamber of Commerce and other business groups, said Illinois’ economic uncertainty is coming home to roost.

Employers are so concerned with a number of issues,” said Shattuck. “Nobody knows what’s going to happen. Are we going to have more taxes? Regulations?  Nobody knows.

The state ratcheted up personal income taxes by 67 percent, and corporate taxes by 57 percent earlier this year.

Kelly Kraft, a spokeswoman for Quinn’s budget office, said there is “no connection” between the tax increases and the unemployment increase.

Constitutional questions at heart of superintendent pay case

After a hearing where the judge asked a question with a "plfftt" of his tongue, serious constitutional issues are expected to decide if Illinois' regional superintendents will be paid soon.

Sangamon County Circuit Judge John Schmidt used the raspberry to punctuate a question about his power to order Gov. Pat Quinn to spend state money. 

"What if I issue an order, and the governor says, 'Plfftt'?," Schmidt pondered in court Thursday. 

Illinois' 44 regional school superintendents are asking Schmidt to issue a temporary restraining order that would force Quinn to pay them. The superintendents have not been paid since July 1, when Quinn zeroed out $11 million from the state budget that was supposed to pay their salaries.

Prison guard numbers worry lawmakers

State budget constraints are creating real safety concerns in Illinois’ prison system for some legislators.Already short-staffed, according to state Sen. Shane Cultra, R-Onarga, the Illinois Department of Corrections could lose up to 1,000 prison guards in the next year because of retirement.

”This is something that just can’t wait any longer. … It’s bad now. What’s it going to be like when you lose 1,000 guards?”

Cultra asked Thursday during a conference call with reporters.Cultra was joined on the call by state Sen. John O. Jones, R-Mount Vernon. Both senators have two prisons in their districts. They said they are concerned about the staff-to-prisoner ratio at all corrections facilities.

Each facility in the state has a ratio of about one prison guard for every 20 inmates, according to figures released by Cultra and Jones. But, Sharyn Elman, spokeswoman for corrections, said the two senators’ numbers are flawed.

“You can’t do an overall comparison. How would you compare and say that it would be the same (number of guards needed) in maximum security facilities as at a minimum security facility? They’re comparing apples to oranges,” Elman said.

Elman said that for the state’s super maximum, maximum and medium security prisons, the staffing levels are at one guard for every six inmates.

Empty district creates crowded primary

It will be more than a year until Illinois’ new legislative districts are tested during the 2012 General Election, but for some Illinois House districts, the campaigning has begun. 

Once a decade, the state’s political lines may shift to reflect demographic changes outlined by the U.S. Census Bureau, creating a few districts without incumbent legislators.

$5 million is just the beginning of Illinois’ health care exchange costs

Illinois is touting a $5 million federal grant to set up health-care exchanges as part of the national health care law, but residents may not have access to an exchange for a couple years.

Illinois wants to have an exchange ready for federal review by 2013, said Kate Gross, assistant director for health planning at the Illinois Department of Insurance. If Illinois fails to set up its exchange by January 2014, it will be required to use an exchange chosen by federal officials.

The $5 million, Gross said, will be spent “on groups of consultants or firms to … begin to help (us) truly figure out all of the pieces that we’re building.”

These consultants or firms will write a report for lawmakers that details how the state should proceed to create a health-care exchange, Gross said.

A handful of full-time state employees in the Department of Insurance also are working on the exchange project, but Gross said more outside help is needed.

Illinois has spent $1 million on consultants to study Illinois’ health insurance needs, but Gross said the state needed additional consultants to discern where to begin.

That report, provided by Wakely Consulting Group, a private consulting group from from Boston, suggests broad goals, such as using technology to identify under-insured populations and foster a competitive health-insurance marketplace.

But the report does not suggest how the state can accomplish these goals. Lawmakers are going to have to decide how to follow up on the report’s vague goals.

Quinn faces lawsuits over cuts to workers pay

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn apparently can’t stay out of court because of decisions he’s made about state employee pay.

The Democratic governor was forced into court Tuesday to defend eliminating pay for the state’s 44 regional school superintendents. It marked the second time this summer he’s been sued over pay cuts to state employees.

The American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a public-employee union, in July sued Quinn in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago over his decision to deny contracted pay raises to 30,000 unionized state employees.

Neither case is resolved.



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