The Southtown Star

New jobs from 'jobs bill'? We'll believe it when we see it

Thursday, August 26, 2010

With the economy still locked in a recession and unemployment in Illinois sticking above 10 percent, many viewed a $26 billion federal aid package to stave off layoffs of teachers, police officers and other government workers as a positive step to get everyday people back to work.

In reality, $26 billion spreads thin across 50 states, and the $1 billion slated for Illinois seems, at this point at least, less and less likely it will create new jobs in Illinois.

Critical specifics - such as who will be hired and how and why - are starkly missing from the details around this bill and from the celebration of its passage.

And with Illinois carrying a $13 billion deficit, it's easy to imagine our legislators sending the $1 billion to the debt collectors instead of to schools and municipalities. Sure, they're not supposed to, but stranger things have, and often do, occur in Illinois politics.

Don't forget this is the Legislature that is so spineless and so ineffectual it could not create a set of spending priorities for the state and could not suggest cuts in the budget. Instead, the General Assembly sent the budget mess back to Gov. Pat Quinn with the message, "YOU do it."

Granted, we understand it's much easier to sit in Springfield and collect taxpayer-funded pay, health care and retirement than it is to tackle actual work. But representing the people - and protecting tax dollars from misuse - is the job and the duty of elected representatives.

Illinois' $1 billion share of the federal package includes $415 million to pay for educators and $550 for the state's Medicaid program.

Even with this latest bailout, Illinois still will be $200 million short in Medicaid funding.

And officials of some Southland school districts scoffed at the notion the cash could be used to hire teachers or add programming. Many bemoan the fact that any new cash received would have to be used to pay debt or plug budget holes created when the state failed to send promised payments in past years. No new teachers, they say, when we've got overdue electric bills and contractors demanding payment for work performed years ago.

The governor's office doesn't know yet what the answers are. When we asked how many police officers or firefighters would be hired in Illinois because of the stimulus, the SouthtownStar got a curious answer from Quinn's office:
"You cannot put a figure on this," Kelly Kraft, a spokeswoman for Gov. Pat Quinn's budget office wrote in an e-mail.

"If this money did not come through, a ripple effect would have occurred which would have impacted other services across the state."

Say what? Aren't we already reeling from "ripple effects" that have "impacted other services across the state" stemming from the fact that the state can't pay its bills?
And with all due respect, this is, actually, all about figures. The $26 billion in federal taxpayer money comes with promises that this will save or retain the jobs of 300,000 teachers, police and other government workers nationwide.

We, along with millions of Illinois taxpayers, have little trust that Quinn or the Legislature can translate this windfall into actual jobs for the unemployed in this state.

Whether this is truly a "jobs bill" to boost everyday workers in Illinois, or if our state's elected leaders view this as a state government bailout, remains to be seen.