By: Mark Glennon*

More “shovel ready” jobs?

Governor Quinn announced Saturday $20 million in state grants to 47 museums across the state. Opinions may vary about the virtue of those grants, but here’s the thing: They were authorized in the “Jobs Now” bill Quinn signed five years ago, sold as a way to stimulate the economy at the height of the recession. Hundreds of millions of dollars on other projects have been announced over the last year under the same Jobs Now plan, and they are continuing.

You’ll remember all the controversy about funding “shovel ready” jobs and stimulus back then, which was mostly about Federal spending. Well, Illinois, too, passed its own big program, the $31 billion “Jobs Now” plan, the state’s share of which was $13 billion. That’s big money for Illinois, the largest construction program in the state’s history. We paid for it mostly by borrowing, but also with $322 million from hikes in drivers license fees, certificate of title fees, transfer registration fees, vehicle registration fees, taxes on sweets and various other “revenue enhancements,” as they were called.

The plan has been funding mostly legitimate capital projects like roads and bridges. But it has also been a shotgun blast of pork that’s going to pretty much everybody with a lobbying presence in Springfield, and to dubious projects like the Peotone airport and “high speed” rail (it’s not, in fact,”high speed”). One recent announcement of Jobs Now money was for decorative LED lighting to illuminate the cables and towers over the Mississippi River at Quincy.

Last year’s disbursements under the plan included $54 million to universities, including $7 million for Northwestern and $5 million for the University of Chicago. Can somebody really defend hiking things like drivers license fees on ordinary people to give more money to those well-off universities? And that’s supposed to produce jobs — now”? Personally, I think a better thing to have passed for schools like those, for both Illinois and the Feds, would have been a bill this simple: Lower your tuition or you don’t get another dime from us.

Jobs Now passed in 2009 with Quinn and other supporters bragging it would create or retain 439,000 jobs, a preposterous claim. That would represent over 8% of all people working in Illinois today. Illinois has 18,000 fewer people working today than it did in 2009.

Perhaps most annoying, those claims of additional employment don’t distinguish temporary jobs from permanent ones. Most Jobs Now spending is going to construction projects, which create temporary jobs. But those fee increases that helped pay for it are permanent, and reduced employment that results from consequently lower consumer spending is likewise permanent.

There’s plenty of blame to go around on this. The plan passed the legislature in 2009 with bipartisan support from leadership in both parties. Only a few Republicans dissented.

One thing the bill will accomplish is allowing Quinn to run around the state during this election year announcing new hand-outs, as he did on Saturday. Just remember who is paying for it.

The Jobs Now label should have been Jobs? How? But the phrase shovel ready sure was right. Ready for shoveling you-know-what.

Mark Glennon is founder of WirePoints


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6 years ago

Great article. Especially like the point about temporary jobs.