Well, at least the vote didn’t end in a fistfight.
But the Illinois Senate did give state Sen. Mike Jacobs, D-East Moline, a good punch in the snout when it voted 52-1 last week to require that all lawmakers disclose relatives who are lobbyists.
Two years ago, Jacobs and state Sen. Kyle McCarter, R-Lebanon, got into an altercation after McCarter made an issue of Jacobs sponsoring a bill that Jacobs’ father, a lobbyist, was pushing. During the scuffle, McCarter said he got punched. Jacobs said he didn’t do it.
One thing is certain: it was an in-your-face confrontation seldom seen on the floor of the Illinois Senate.
The issue of lawmaker relatives lobbying re-emerged last Thursday when the Senate approved Senate Bill 1361. Jacobs was the only person in the chamber to vote against the measure that requires all lawmakers to disclose any relatives who are lobbyists.
“This is really just a baby step in the area of ethics, but it’s a step in the right direction,” said state Sen. Darin LaHood, R-Dunlap.
McCarter added, “It’s essential that everyone in government be transparent – even Mike Jacobs.”
For his part, Jacobs says he is the most transparent person in the state Senate. “This is just a case of politicians trying to make themselves look better than they really are,” he said. “I refused to play along. This is just a game of Gotcha!”
Jobless in Illinois
Illinois has the nation’s second-worst unemployment rate. At 9.5 percent, it’s two percentage points higher than the national average of 7.5 percent.
Two percentage points might not seem like much on paper, but that equates to 130,000 people. That’s more than the entire populations of Peoria, Springfield or Elgin.
Think about it – that’s how many jobs Illinois would have to create just to be as bad as the rest of the nation. Only Nevada has a worse unemployment rate than Illinois. And Nevada’s problems lie almost exclusively with an economy dependent on one industry – gaming.
But Illinois has a much more diverse economy than that. With our central location, excellent transportation and top-notch workforce we should be the powerhouse of the nation. Instead, Illinois is the nation’s biggest laggard.
Why? Our state has instituted policies that discourage employers from hiring people.
The other day, someone pointed out to me that Texas wasn’t as good a place to live because it had more minimum-wage jobs than Illinois. Yeah, well, Illinois has more unemployed people. Which is worse, a minimum-wage job or no job at all?
Illinois has the fourth-highest minimum wage in the nation and legislation is pending to raise it even higher. The higher you raise the cost of labor, the fewer people get hired. That is just a basic law of economics.
And the folks most likely to be hurt by this are the least-skilled workers. This includes young people. In 2011, only 27 percent of teens in Illinois had jobs, which is the lowest Illinois teen employment rate in the 42 years the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tracking this data. The figures were worst for African-American teens in Chicago, where only 10 percent had jobs.
These numbers are significant because, nationally, 49 percent of all people earning the minimum wage are 24 years old or younger.
Do you remember your first job as a teenager? I’m willing to bet it didn’t pay much, but it prepared you for the next job down the road.
Aside from the minimum wage, other regulatory costs also contribute to Land of Lincoln’s discouraging unemployment numbers.
For example, the high cost of workers’ compensation deters companies from locating in Illinois, and serves as an added impediment for existing employers to expand their workforce.
Just consider, for every hundred dollars in payroll, Texas employers pay 39 cents for workers’ compensation insurance; their Illinois counterparts pay $1.10. And like it or not, taxes also play a role in the state’s unemployment rate.
Illinois has the fourth-highest corporate income tax in the industrialized world. This deters companies from locating here, taking away money from business and making it more difficult for them to expand.
If we want the Prairie State’s employment numbers to rebound, we need less from government – not more. Illinois needs to tax less, regulate less and get out of the way.
This will give industry greater opportunity to employ Illinoisans.
Pulling our chain
“You might be a redneck if both your dog and your wallet are on chains.” —Jeff Foxworthy
I couldn’t help but think of that joke yesterday when the Illinois House passed a bill saying dogs, when tethered, needed to be on chains or ropes at least 10 feet long.
House Bill 83 passed the Senate Wednesday on a 43-9 vote. Don’t get me wrong, I love dogs. I have four in my house ranging in size from an Italian greyhound to a St. Bernard. And no, I don’t chain up my pups. It’s not a nice thing to do.
That said, doesn’t the Illinois General Assembly have something better to do with its time these days? Like deal with the nearly $100 billion pension shortfall, improving the state’s business climate or trying to catch the state up on its billions in unpaid bills? Besides, does anybody think Billy Bob is going to walk out of his trailer and measure his dog’s chain just because some highfalutin folks in Springpatch think he ought to?
Lawmakers are barking up the wrong tree on this one, as they were on another bill that has been capturing more than a lion’s share of headlines.
Luis in the lion’s den
State Rep. Luis Arroyo, D-Chicago, must have felt like he was in the lion’s den Wednesday when he tried to introduce his bill banning the sale of lion meat in Illinois. Before this bill reared its head, I’d never heard of people eating lion meat.
The bill has been featured in publications around the world – including National Geographic. It also opened up the General Assembly to a fair amount of ridicule.
When the bill came up for debate this week, one could almost hear Arroyo’s colleagues growl. Fearing a legislative mauling, the sponsor pulled it from the record before it came up for a vote.
Again, don’t our lawmakers have better things to do?
Figures don’t lie
Back when I was a young reporter in Galveston, Texas, I worked for a small town newspaper that didn’t pay well. The managing editor kept insisting he was paying the “market rate” for reporters.
But reporters often quit after a few months and took a better paying job elsewhere. The level of turnover an employer experiences is a good barometer for determining whether workers are being paid close to the market rate.
It works that way in state government, too.
Covering state government I’ve heard things like, “Assistant attorney generals keep leaving because the pay is so poor.” Or I’ll hear things like, “Janitors at the statehouse make a lot more than they would anywhere else. If someone gets one of those jobs, they better hang on to it with both hands.” But how do you evaluate whether those kind of statements are true?
Well, Senate Bill 1670, which passed the Illinois House Wednesday on a 114-0 vote, will give us more information to evaluate such statements. This legislation has its roots in a 2011 study from the Illinois Policy Institute, which focused on pay disparities between government and private sector workers.
The bill, which now proceeds to the governor, requires the Illinois Department of Central Management Services to collect data for each state agency to report on their annual workforce characteristics, compensation and employee turnover. This information will then be published annually on the Illinois Transparency and Accountability Portal or another open data site.
“The more transparency the better,” said state Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo. “I think any taxpayer should be able to look up how any dollar is spent. It’s important for them to be able to look up these kind of workforce characteristics.”