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Keeping Illinois at Work

Pat Quinn

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn will once again use state money to extend Put Illinois to Work, which started as a stimulus bill program — that created 26,000 temporary jobs –  before federal funds ran out at the end of September. Quinn spent $75 million then to keep the program going and he will spend $47 million more for a 2nd extension running six weeks, the Associated Press reports. In Put Illinois to Work, the federal, and now state, government subsidizes entry-level jobs in the private sector for residents 200 percent below the federal poverty level. The jobs typically pay $10 an hour.

Quinn has prioritized the state’s employment problems even at a time of record budget deficits. The $47 million will come from bond sale proceeds the state made from tobacco settlement money. In other words, Illinois has once again tapped its few fiscal reserves at a time when the state faces a budget deficit of up to $15 billion and Moody’s has downgraded the state’s bond rating. The irony here is that Illinois, which like most states is required to balance its budget, has put jobs first at a time when the federal government, which does not have to balance its budget, is fixated on the deficit. Put Illinois to Work and similar state programs across the country failed to get an extension because Congress said they would contribute to the deficit. Official Washington, D.C. is no longer intellectually focused on the lingering unemployment problem, what with liberal, centrist and conservative lawmakers and think tanks practically issuing a new long-term debt reduction report a day. But unemployment is just as bad nationally and in Illinois as when the stimulus first went into effect.

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