Tom Kacich: Area legislators' constituents heavily government-employed
There's a very good reason that many downstate Republican — and Democratic — lawmakers have not embraced the more drastic pension fix proposed by House Speaker Michael Madigan. And Rob Paral, a Chicagoan who admits to "a lot of nerdy number-crunching" is able to show why.
Many of their constituents are government employees, who would lose much more under Madigan's reform plan than one offered by Senate President John Cullerton.
In fact, using federal census data, Paral shows that some of the greatest blocs of government employees live in central and southern Illinois.
In fact, state Rep. Naomi Jakobsson, D-Urbana, and state Sen. Mike Frerichs, D-Champaign, represent the districts with the highest percentages of government workers in the state.
Thirty-seven percent of Jakobsson's constituents (more than 10 percentage points greater than the No. 2 finisher) and 28.5 percent of Frerichs' constituents are government workers. That includes not only University of Illinois and state employees, but federal, county and school district employees.
Statewide, the average legislative district has 12.9 percent government employees, said Paral, who owns a firm that provides demographic, social and economic information to clients.
"People don't recognize how important government is as an employer. It's big. A lot of people work for government," Paral said.
But it's exceptionally big not just in Jakobsson's and Frerichs' districts, but in many others in East Central Illinois.
Sen. Dale Righter's district around Charleston-Mattoon ranks 11th of 59 with 15.3 percent government employees. Republican Sens. Bill Brady of Bloomington and Chapin Rose of Mahomet each have 15.2 percent government employees, good enough for 14th and 15th places. Sen. Jason Barickman ranks 21st with 14.5 percent government employees.
Among state House districts in the area, Catlin Republican Rep. Chad Hays' district ranks ninth at 19 percent, Rep. Brad Halbrook's district ranks 13th, Rep. Dan Brady's is 21st, Rep. Adam Brown's west Champaign district is 27th (at 15.5 percent) and Rep. Bill Mitchell's is 35th (at 14.9 percent).
The legislative districts with the smallest percentages of public sector workers are in Chicago and its west and northwest suburbs. There, public sector employees make up as little as 7.1 percent of all employment.
A report last week by state Auditor General Bill Holland found few problems at the Danville Correctional Center, the 28-year-old high medium security prison on Danville's east side.
But it did show that the prison was among the most crowded in the state on June 30, 2012.
And a more recent report, done by the Department of Corrections and dated May 31, was even more troubling. It showed that the Danville prison was at 217 percent of its design-rated capacity of 896 inmates, the capacity of the facility when it was constructed. As of May 31, according to DOC, there were 1,942 inmates at Danville.
DOC said the prison's operational capacity was 1,966 although at other points — including the Danville prison's own website — it said the capacity was 1,866.
DOC spokesman Tom Shaer said the population at the Danville prison on Tuesday was 1,835, a figure it has been at or below for the last month.
"We are crowded but not overcrowded," Shaer wrote in an email.
Around May 31, he said, the Danville center was housing inmates in a gymnasium, as were other correctional centers. That practice has ended at Danville, Shaer said.
In any case, he stressed, the prison is safe.
"We have a safe and secure facility and the incident reports show that," he wrote.
The auditor general's report said there were four inmate assaults on staff in both fiscal years 2012 and 2011, a sum lower than almost all other DOC medium security prisons.
The report also showed that there were 212 correctional officers at the prison on June 30, 2012, and that there were more than 39,000 hours of either overtime or compensatory time paid out in that fiscal year.
In terms of yearly cost per inmate, Danville was one of the prison system's most efficient facilities with an annual cost per inmate of $16,368. The lowest was the Big Muddy (also high medium security) prison at $15,572. Highest was the now-closed Tamms "supermax" prison at $66,965 per inmate. Second was the Southwestern Illinois Correctional Center, a minimum security prison, at $38,854.
Anti-Davis TV ads
The League Of Conservation Voters has begun running what it calls "accountability ads" in the Champaign-Decatur-Springfield and St. Louis TV markets that are critical of U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Taylorville, for his position on climate change.
"The American people are tired of Washington politicians like Rep. Davis ignoring basic scientific facts and standing in the way of action on climate change," said Gene Karpinski, president of the group.
But at least part of the TV spot — a very brief snippet taken from a Davis interview on WILL radio last October — is taken out of context and appears to be deliberately misleading.
In the brief, edited cut Davis says, "global warming has stopped 16 years ago."
But in the actual passage, available at WILL's website (http://will.illinois.edu/focus/program/talk-to-the-candidate-rodney-davis-r-13th-illinois-congressional-district), Davis says in response to a question: "Ironically if you listen to recent reports they're saying that global warming has stopped 16 years ago."
After he was interrupted by the caller, Davis continued, "I would love to see more stats than what has just been reported on a couple stations. But climate change is real. The debate is over whether or not it's manmade or natural, and what can we do about it."
For the record, though, Davis is opposed to "cap and trade" legislation and carbon taxes that are supported by the League of Conservation Voters.
In a statement Tuesday, Davis spokesman Andrew Flach acknowledged that opposition.
"Congressman Davis will continue to oppose efforts to enact a job-killing tax on carbon emissions and will work to reverse the administration's efforts to end the use of coal-fired power plants that provide almost half of Illinois' electricity and support 31,000 jobs in the state," Flach said.
He called the League "nothing more than a far-left front group for the Washington Democrats at this point."
Tom Kacich is a News-Gazette editor and columnist. His column appears on Wednesdays and Sundays. He can be reached at 351-5221 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.